Island paramedics beginning to feel the pinch

Ryan Cooke
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When Morissa Ings graduates from the Holland College Primary Care Paramedicine program this summer, she’ll be looking at two guarantees.

One, there won’t be any full-time work available for her in her home province of P.E.I.

Two, the prospect of heading to Alberta will be ringing in her head.

“There’s a huge temptation. Out there, as a primary care paramedic, we can make $350-plus a day.”

With a three week-on, two week-off schedule, that translates to about $150,000 each year, over three times what she could make at home.

It’s a trend that P.E.I. Paramedics Union leader Jason Woodbury has noticed growing in his field, and he fears the effect it will have on Islanders.

“You’re starting to see a lot more of it,” he said. “There’s a lot of leave of absence requests coming through to the employers with regards to leaving to pursue a career in the western part of the country.”

While he says the outmigration of paramedics isn’t at a critical point yet, it’s hurtling towards it.

The demographic of the fleeing medics is the most troubling part, he said.

“It seems to be the younger generation. They finish their schooling at Holland College and the opportunities are not all that bright for fulltime employment on P.E.I.”

Despite the allure of Western Canada to young workers, there needs to be a structured plan in place to keep young paramedics from leaving, he said.

If not, things could reach that dire point.

“It’s going to put a tremendous amount of strain on Prince Edward Island,” he said. “Government and management and union need to sit down and talk before it gets critical.”

A big part of the problem is the lack of fulltime work available for a rookie paramedic coming out of school, he said. While there is casual work available locally, the same work can be found in Alberta with much higher wages.

Woodbury said the effects of it are already being seen, with more overtime being offered and more shifts going unmanned.

It’s a trend that has caused a fuss in Nova Scotia over the last week, with union leader Terry Chapman saying morale is at an all-time low.

As many as 90 advanced care paramedics have left the region to find work in Western Canada, he estimates.

Tyler MacCuspic, a Cape Breton native studying Advanced Paramedicine at Holland College, said working conditions in Nova Scotia are not ideal at the moment.

While he would rather move to Alberta, the Baddeck, N.S. native has worked as a paramedic at home for several years and has a guaranteed fulltime position in Cape Breton after he graduates.

With an abundance of outmigration, the open positions are being filled with younger paramedics, like himself.

Along with lack of experience, a lack of familiarity with the terrain poses a major threat.

“If you don’t know the area, it can be really, really confusing,” he said. “You’re it. There’s no one that can come help you out… you have to be on your game.”

At home, Ings hasn’t been able to get away from talk about what’s going on in Nova Scotia.

Unlike MacCuspic and Chapman, Ings sees the pros along with the cons.

“While it’s a little scary of a thought, at the same time, it’s kind of a positive thing for us new beginners. Employment-wise, it opens up a lot of doors for us.”

However, the cons can leave some scary situations hiding behind those doors.

With there being some duties primary care paramedics cannot administer, and a lack of advanced care paramedics due to outmigration, people like Ings could find themselves in helpless situations.

“My scary thought is that if I need that (additional help), is it going to be available to me when that patient needs it?”

In P.E.I., the scary thoughts extend beyond paramedicine.

Woodbury, who is the fire chief in Miscouche, said he’s seen several leave of absence requests come across his desk from young firefighters heading West.

“It’s the whole EMS system,” he said. “We’re starting to see this trickle effect within the fire service as well, with the retention and demand for volunteer firefighters within the province.”

Until opportunities in P.E.I. can shine near as bright as those in Alberta, Woodbury believes things are only going to get worse for everybody, not just emergency services.

“It makes it very difficult. These rural communities are going to be dormant if employment doesn’t change.”


Organizations: Holland College, P.E.I. Paramedics Union, EMS

Geographic location: Prince Edward Island, Alberta, Nova Scotia Western Canada Cape Breton Baddeck Miscouche

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Recent comments

  • don
    February 23, 2013 - 07:18

    OUT WEST MEDIC. in my opinion stay out west we no need turn coats.

    February 23, 2013 - 02:28

    As a medic from PEI, who is now working in Alberta, I am saddened to see that persons made this sound like we are out her solely for the money..... I shall not go into details about my personal dealings with IEMS in 14-16 months I worked for them, it is not the important part..... The most stressful job was not the fact that I would sometimes be in a car holding a pt's c-spine, with a wool blanket draped over us as the FD cut the roof off with the Jaws, or the fact that I had to put one of my beloved friends into a body bag and deliver them to the morgue. The most stressful part for over half of my time there I was afraid of the office. I worked lots of hours, took any shift I was called for, worked "casual" the whole time (which just means working for straight time no matter how many hours I put in, with zero benefits, and paying union dues to a union, which in the end, couldn't and wouldn't do anything for me because I was a casual). I gave good service to all my patients. I treated them like a person, not a number, yet I was nothing but a number..... I usually averaged four to six trips off island a week, and about 140 hrs every two weeks at work. I was making $19.57/hr at the time (which is good for PEI, but nothing compared to the $30+/hr in Ontario, and not just in Toronto, $26/hr with Alberta Health Services, or $24/hr in Saskatchewan...) and I was only making that much because of the en lieu they pay casuals (A PCP on PEI at that time started at $17.47/hr if they ere lucky enough to get a PT or FT job). I can understand why people think it is all about money. They don't know what it is to work for Medavie. You are treating like "meat in the seat". They want cookie cutter medics (hence why they have bought out the schools in NS and NB). They also came to HC last year to inform the PCP class that they would only be hiring the top 10% of the class, after HC decided to expand the program and have 40 PCP students and 24 ACP students to pay for their new building. I don't like that I had to move across the country to do what I love. I had no choice, I wasn't even allowed to do my ACP ride outs in the maritimes after two years of not working for them. They control it all on the east..... The schools, the medics, the EMS system, health insurance..... It is disgusting. I feel physically ill every time I hear that they take over another outfit..... I work out here because I have to, not because I want to. I got into Paramedicine because I wanted to help my community. How warped is that. I wanted to help my fellow Islanders in their worst situations and because a few people in a off island corporation didn't like me I cannot do that anymore..... I hope that someone will soon see reason before the maritimes loose some of the most highly trained practitioners they have. I met an ACP from CB out here at the staff house. He had been working in NS for 25 years and when he went to leave he didn't get a thank you for your service, a cya, f u get out of here, nothing..... And I heard another story of how a medic was informed of his termination when his union rep called to ask what he wanted done with his pension. "What do you mean? What do I want done with my pension?" "Well you were fired from EMC....." What a way to find out you got fired..... Just goes to show how "valued" we are by the employer..... Good luck my brothers and sisters, you got one heck of a fight coming and I wish you all the best..... Someday I will return home to practice, and we can make the EMS system better for Paramedic and Patient alike..... Oh btw, ask someone in Souris or Alberton or O'leary how often they see an ambulance in the base..... Not very often because they are covering Summerside or Charlottetown because there are not enough trucks on the road. Remind me again why our tax money goes to fund substandard EMS coverage from a private corporation?

  • Upwest outwest
    February 20, 2013 - 16:19

    The gov is sitting back laughing cause while our family members go west to work and leave family behind where is all the money going when they come back to guess the gov!

  • Upwest outwest
    February 20, 2013 - 16:10

    Time to wake up PEI!!! Also have a husband that travels outwest for work!

  • Out West Medic
    February 20, 2013 - 14:25

    I'm currently a maritime paramedic working in Alberta. I make in 2 days, what maritime medics make in a week!, plus I get my travel, meals, and living arrangements provided to me! How does a recently graduated paramedic with ridiculous loans say no to that?! I'm definitely not here for the love of Alberta, I can't wait to return home, but there's not much to look forward to... being a casual medic means you don't get any benefits and they pay you next to nothing compared to other jobs where similar education is required. Just wish some people could take a walk in our boots to see what being a paramedic is really like before offering up their "expert advice". No one chooses this profession for the money (and if they did, they won't last).. but that doesn't mean we should sit back and suck it up.. we should get paid what we deserve!

  • Causeitconcernme
    February 20, 2013 - 10:59

    It means more new paramedics and firefighters from Ontario will move to PEI and fill these positions as they have in Nova Scotia.

  • don
    February 20, 2013 - 10:56

    Jason I agree with you 110% rural communities will have nothing NO ems, NO hospitals. And who do you have to thank for it the liberal voters of PEI. Dizzy and his clowns have money for new cars, millions for certain groups on PEI and off island millionaires but NO money to help ems keep staff. But I want to see on paper how many lives has the liberal members in the house and the backroom boys of the party saved tell us dizzy how many lives have you saved from car crashes heart arttacks,etc? None we all know that. But yet you have a backbone to smile when you give OUR MONEY away knowing it will never be paid back. I ask this before and dizzy you and your clowns are COWARDS to do it. Go out with ems work there hours see the fresh blood of REAL ISLANDERS or respond to a medical call as firemen. But when we have no more ems or first responders on PEI then tell us what will you do then? If you all do not go out and see how brave ems staff is and what they have to deal with and how they are treated by your drunks, spit on, told off all liberal voters next time you whine about ems being slow no doc’s STOP and remember YOUR VOTE caused it. WHINE TO YOUR MEMBERS not ems. MOST OF YOU HAVE no IDEA HOW HARD EMS WORK. And what they see.ems staff thank you for all you are doing and I hope the new paramedics stay on PEI money is great but the life they may save here maybe a family or friend of theirs. A life is more important than a few bucks.

  • Up West
    February 20, 2013 - 10:31

    My husband works out west, in Alberta. He makes more in one day than I gross in an entire week. Unfortunately, our sadness for the economy of rural PEI is overpowered by our need to make ends meet as well as pay off a service business that failed due to many other failures.. farms, forestry and more. He spends all of his time 4000 km away from the home he loves, the family he loves, to make ends meet. He can not do this making $15/hr as a driver or labourer here. I do not personally know how this can change, how we can start keeping people home. I do know that regardless of how it hurts us all in the end, we will still keep going to Alberta, and sending loved ones away, because we must, to survive.

    February 20, 2013 - 09:34

    It is not only the paramedic's and firemen leaving for out west. Maybe some of those volunteer firemen are seasonal worker's and if they go, then there is not going to be any firemen if steven harper does put the EI system back to the way it was.

  • sandra
    February 20, 2013 - 06:00

    And do we wonder why this is happening. The goverment has done this to us. My daughter is graduating university and says "Why should she try for a job on the Island(PEI)that she will only get paid 1/4 the amount she would in other places. These young people most have student loans to pay off and need the money. Thank you goverment

  • Dev
    February 19, 2013 - 23:07

    It's the same with any other job. They complain that they need people to fill a certain job. So a bunch of people take the necessary courses and it turns into 30 people with an education but still working on minimum wage and 10 people with part time jobs because they only really had 5 part time positions available to begin with. You notice this especially in the trades. The government is calling for trades people, saying it's the future, so Holland College is graduating something like 50 carpenters a year. Nobody mentions that you have to go across the country to do anything with it!