Short-Staffing and Privatization Threat are Putting Air Ambulance Patients at Risk
Jun 23, 2017
The Government of Manitoba recently grounded its Southern Air Ambulance transport program due to a lack of available pilots. However, a closer look reveals that the problem isn’t quite as simple as the government would have you believe.
The Southern Air Ambulance program was designed to reduce transportation times for Manitoba patients in communities like Dauphin, Swan River, Russell, Virden, Roblin and Deloraine where overland transportation would take more than 2.5 hours between health care facilities.
Although the government claims the air ambulance service has been suspended due to a lack of pilots, the pilots themselves say the shortage is caused by the government’s reluctance to hire. There are far too many vacancies that haven’t been filled, leaving the service with only four pilots, where there should be eight.
The high vacancy rate and an uncertain workplace is the real reason for the service being grounded this week. With all of the recent talk about the Manitoba government’s intention to privatize Air Services, pilots are worried and are starting to apply for other jobs. This, of course, ends up making the problem worse.
If privatization of the entire Air Services branch does move forward, it would not be the first time a government went down this road in this way. In fact, it’s a fairly common strategy used by governments looking to privatize public services. By not filling open positions, the service quality deteriorates and workers begin to look elsewhere for more secure work. The cycle of eroding the service continues until the government claims it just isn’t feasible anymore to provide the service publicly. Then the government moves ahead with privatization as a quick fix to a problem they created.
And what is the result? Often it’s poorer quality service that ends up costing the government more because private companies want to see profits.
Over the short term, while this vital service is grounded, it also means paramedics in these regions will now be required to drive patients, who would have normally been transported quickly via air ambulance, very long distances. We already know that rural paramedics are short-staffed by about 400 people. Adding these transfers to the workload of current paramedics puts the problem on their shoulders and the system under strain.
The Southern Air Ambulance transport program is a lifeline to the communities it serves. Privatizing this vital public service is not the answer. We need the Premier to remember his commitment to protect public services and address this situation now by hiring more pilots and investing in this publicly provided service.
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