'Very risky': Paramedics being removed from Edmonton Remand Centre in favour of nurses

There are currently four advanced care paramedics at the Edmonton Remand Centre, but that’s about to change. The paramedics are losing their jobs, and will be replaced by registered nurses. Health care workers say it will cost more, and put patients at risk.

Damien Cunningham is one of the paramedics. He has been saving lives at the facility for eight years.

“We can respond anywhere in the building within two minutes,” he told CTV News Edmonton on Tuesday.

“We would perform any life saving emergencies, skills, medications that need to be done.”

Alberta Health Services say its registered nurses are trained to respond to critical health related incidents, but Cunningham argues that nurses aren’t qualified as first responders.

“A nurse and a paramedic are two totally different disciplines,” he said.

“Does not have it in their scope to perform emergency care procedures or cannot give emergency medications without a doctor’s order.”

Cunningham says the facility requires an ambulance about 100 times a year with paramedics on site. He expects that number to spike, costing AHS more money.

“Think how much an ambulance costs, several thousand dollars, plus the correction officer’s time and wages to go to the hospital, the emergency room.”

The head of the United Nurses of Alberta also believes the move will put inmates at risk.

“Nurses will be told if you have somebody coding, call 911 and wait for an ambulance, versus having on site paramedics that can initiate the code then and there,” said UNA President Heather Smith.

The UNA wants AHS to reverse the decision, or at least delay it.

“It’s considered to be a very risky and unnecessary undertaking with no seeming rhyme or reason for the change,” Smith said.

AHS says the move will align the remand with other provincial correctional facilities, but Cunningham says the remand is a lot bigger than the other facilities.

“We are much more productive keeping a population of 2,500 people in-house the best we can to provide the care there rather than burden the system,” he said.

“It’s caused a lot stress for me because I want to be an advocate for a system that works.”

Cunningham and the other three paramedics have been offered positions on an ambulance, but he says he’s not sure it’s a pace he can handle at his age. 

With files from CTV News Edmonton's Amanda Anderson.