'It comes at a cost, and that cost is their well-being': Winnipeg paramedics missing breaks to respond to calls

An ambulance is shown in a file photo. (CP24)

Winnipeg paramedics are struggling to keep up during the pandemic to the point they are missing meal breaks.

On Monday, the city’s protection committee heard they are so busy paramedics are forced to work during lunch.

Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Chief John Lane says he recently visited 15 stations to get feedback.

As a result, meal breaks are being extended from 30 to 45 minutes and paramedics will only be called away for the most serious calls.

Committee Chair, Councillor Sherri Rollins, says people need to hear this.

“It is shocking that often times the paramedics that come to Winnipeggers with lights and sirens are not getting a lunch,” said Rollins.

Lane also said paramedics no longer want to be alerted when there is degradation in the system, a situation where there are fewer than seven ambulances available city-wide.

Lane says the announcements are happening so often it’s causing a sense of hopelessness for paramedics.

“It comes at a cost, and that cost is their well-being,” said Lane

Lane says prior to the pandemic, the service was already short 10 24/7 ambulances and five community care paramedic units. It’s something he says the province, who funds the ambulance service, has been aware of since 2019.

In a statement, Manitoba Shared Health says it increased ambulance funding in 2020 representing a nine per cent bump over two years.

It says talks are underway about a new deal.

“Shared Health remains committed to working with the city to finalize a new funding and service agreement. While we choose not to negotiate multi-million dollar agreements in public, we can confirm those discussions are ongoing.”

Shared Health and Lane both pointed to a pilot project they’ve partnered on to relieve some of the burden known as EPIC 9. Over the last five weeks, the WFPS has been able to divert 198 less urgent patients away from ambulances, instead sending them to urgent care hospitals via a taxi, family member, or friend.

Shared Health also says it provided funding for two community paramedic response units during the pandemic.