FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE August 28, 2002
Public safety at risk due to understaffed air ambulance dispatch centre: OPSEU
TORONTO - The transportation of critically ill patients by plane and helicopter is in trouble because of chronic understaffing at the province’s air ambulance dispatch centre, says the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU).
In the past five months, 11 employees have left the air ambulance dispatch centre in Vaughan. The centre has a staff complement of 40. It dispatches air ambulances throughout the province.
“The understaffing is causing delays in moving patients, many of whom are critically ill,” said Marie Willey, a steward with OPSEU Local 545, and a 27-year employee of the air ambulance dispatch centre.
“Dispatchers are under overwhelming and indiscriminate pressure because of the staffing shortages,” said Willey. “It’s taking longer to do the job which is dispatching the right aircraft in the right time for the right patient.”
Willey said for three days in September there will be only one paramedic on duty to take calls from hospitals and land ambulance dispatch centres, instead of the usual three. Paramedics assess how badly hurt the patient is and what level of care they will need while being transported. Willey said she expects it will
take at least double the time to answer and process emergency calls as a result of the understaffing.
She said the province is having trouble attracting and keeping dispatchers. Employees are leaving the high-stress environment of the dispatch centre because they can earn much more as a dispatcher for a fire department or police service.
“Why should anybody work for the province, when they can go to work for police dispatch for $15,000 a year more?” said Willey.
Air ambulance dispatchers earn $44,000 a year compared to $59,000 a year earned by police dispatchers in York Region.
OPSEU has asked the government to solve the recruitment and retention problem at air and land ambulance dispatch centres by raising dispatchers’ wages.
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For further information, please contact:
Marie Willey: 905-883-9517
Megan Park: 416-