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OPSEU: ambulance communications crisis is putting patients’ lives at risk

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Toronto – The staffing shortage at the Cambridge Central Ambulance Communications Centre (CACC) has reached a crisis level, and according to OPSEU President Warren (Smokey) Thomas, patients’ lives are at risk. 

“Ambulance Communications Officers (ACOs) are the first line of defense in a medical emergency,” said Thomas. “But they need the appropriate tools, resources and staffing to do their jobs saving people’s lives, not some last-ditch band-aid scheme written on the back of a napkin.”

In response to ongoing staffing concerns, Cambridge CACC management announced last Thursday that all staff would be moved to the Hamilton CACC as of Monday, in order to mitigate the issue.

“Moving these staff from Cambridge to Hamilton on such short notice isn’t just disruptive, it’s dangerous,” said Thomas. “It’s the latest move in a long history of stop-gap solutions. But when it comes to saving lives, we need permanent staffing solutions not makeshift mitigation tactics.” 

The Cambridge CACC, like many other CACCs across the province, has been plagued by issues of short-staffing and high staff turnover. Many of the staff are working on a contract-basis, with little job protection, despite their exposure to high levels of trauma resulting in PTSD. As short-staffing persists, more strain is being placed on fewer remaining staff.

“These staff are doing the best they can, with far too little,” said Lucy Morton, OPSEU Region 2 Regional Vice-President. “Now, they’re being moved to a location where the proper processes and technology won’t be in place for 6-8 weeks – it’s a logistical nightmare. But when it comes to ambulance dispatch, we can’t afford mistakes; delays put lives at risk.”

“Even though current CACC management has made strong efforts to address our members’ concerns and to improve staffing, government restrictions are what’s really standing in the way,” said Frank Wendling, Chair of OPSEU’s Ministry Employee Relations Committee (MERC) for the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care. “The government’s lack of funding and a hiring freeze has caused all efforts to grind to a halt at the worst possible time, despite their promise that emergency services wouldn’t be impacted.” 

In a recent Open Letter, Thomas called on Health Minister Christine Elliott to intervene with management at the CACCs, and launch a recruiting drive explaining that these staff are essential frontline staff and do not fall under the Premier’s recently imposed freeze on the Ontario Public Service. 

“The CACC has been running like a whack-a-mole; one problem down, and a new one pops up,” said Thomas. “It’s time to get to the root of the problem; it’s time that our government ‘for the people’ step up and hire more permanent, full-time ACOs immediately. The people’s lives depend on it, and OPSEU’s here to fight for it.” 

OPSEU members will rally at the Hamilton CACC, located at 282 Fennell Ave. W. on Friday, December 21, from 11:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. to support ACOs and to demand improved working conditions and safe staffing levels at the CACCs. 

For more information: Warren (Smokey) Thomas, 613-329-1931; Lucy Morton, 905-317-9464