Lambton paramedics ignoring non-emergency calls amid contract talks

Nearly 150 County of Lambton paramedics are no longer responding to non-emergency calls amid ongoing negotiations for a new contract.

Job action as of last Saturday means Lambton County paramedics won’t be doing non-urgent transfers between hospitals for the next while, or keeping ambulance stations as neat and tidy, a union spokesperson says.

Nearly 150 Lambton Emergency Medical Services (EMS) paramedics represented by SEIU Healthcare Local 1 stopped responding to non-emergency calls Oct. 13, after, said SEIU Healthcare’s Corey Johnson, months of stalled negotiations.

An essential service agreement means paramedics will continue to respond to emergencies, but will no longer cover non-urgent patient transfers, including between hospitals, to home from hospital, and to scheduled specialist appointments.

“There are also maintenance things that won’t be taken care of during this time,” said Johnson, head of strategic communications with the union. “Stuff like waxing of the ambulances and housekeeping at the different stations as well,” he said.

So far there haven’t been any issues or complaints, he said Monday.

“Patients will see no reduction of emergency medical services,” said Lambton County Warden Bill Weber.

“The county is committed to providing emergency service and a positive work environment for staff,” he said. “The bargaining is ongoing.”

SEIU Healthcare Local 1 members stand outside the County of Lambton administration building in Wyoming earlier this month, before sitting in the Lambton County Council gallery in support of their contract demands. Close to 150 local paramedics have stopped providing non-emergency services since Saturday (Handout)

The next bargaining date Nov. 15 was set just before paramedics sat in the gallery at a Lambton County Council meeting Oct. 3 to show support for their contract demands.

They’ve been without a contract since March.

The county had previously walked away from bargaining, Johnson said.

“We’re optimistic, but until we get to the table, there’s no way of knowing what they’re thinking.”

The union is seeking wage increases for Lambton members to bring them up to a level on par with other paramedics in the province, Johnson said. But the key issue is bridging benefits, he said, to let members who retire early keep their benefits until age 65.

Many paramedics deal with post-traumatic stress disorder, and physical and mental tolls from the job make early retirement common, he said.

“Just because the job ends, doesn’t mean the issues they’re dealing with do.”

Bluewater Health meanwhile is working with “various community partners and health resources” to handle non-urgent transfers involving Sarnia-Lambton hospitals, said Julia Oosterman, chief of communications and public affairs.

It’s difficult to tell if the job action will lead to delays, she said.

“We are monitoring the situation closely and have alternative arrangements in place.”

Emergency transfers will continue, she said.

County of Lambton paramedics cover Brigden, Corunna, Forest, Grand Bend, Petrolia, Sarnia, Thedford and Watford.

With files from Paul Morden
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