Bonnyville is seeing a shortage of EMS staff after the province announced they were hiring more first responders in Edmonton and Calgary, said local officials.
Since December, six local EMS employees have left positions in Bonnyville.
“We see a trend where a lot of our employees have applied for certain positions that aren’t from the local area,” said Bonnyville Regional Fire Authority Fire Chief, Jay Melvin.
“So you can understand when there are opportunities closer to home, that will be a driving force for them….so that has caused some issues with the staff.”
Although, the issue is more complex than just more job openings elsewhere for Bonnyville emergency responders.
The EMS profession is regulated across the province, but the wages differ from community to community.
The AHS contract the BRFA inherited shows a disparity between the wages a first responder could earn in Bonnyville versus a larger center.
“That impact of opening those new positions, the urban centers pay a lot more than rural,” said Melvin.
“But it’s hard to bring in employees when you’re already behind the 8-ball on the salaries.
“I can’t confirm or deny if any our people who have left our positions, got accepted into positions that are available, but obviously there’s a lot of constant movement, that I’ve seen of EMS staff in our organization. Now that may be to the salary grid, that may be due that they’re from the local area, and maybe they don’t like the rural setting, maybe they want a faster pace lifestyle.”
The salaries vary by contractor. For example, Cold Lake pays a different amount to EMS staff than Bonnyville, said Melvin.
“Whatever you negotiated then that’s what you get. The problem we had is we didn’t negotiate anything.”
The BRFA took over the Bonnyville Municipal Ambulance years ago and inherited the ambulance service and contract.
The current AHS contract will be up in two years and these wage disparities will be part of the negotiations.
“It’s an aggregation of a lot of factors,” said Mayor Gene Sobolewski.
“We’re working with them with AHS to say we need to rectify this issue because it’s not only Bonnyville and impacting us and our EMS, but it’s effecting Alberta in a lot of areas. You’ve got Strathcona and Peace River experiencing similar things, but they have a little more parity with their wages. We’re feeling the pinch a little more.”
Melvin said one of the ways this issue could be resolved is standardized wages across the province for EMS employees, so rural areas aren’t hung out to dry.
Province funds $29 million
This is off the heels of the province’s announcement in December that they will spend $29 million dollars to hire additional paramedics, buy new ambulances and improve service for the public and frontline staff.
So with more mobility for EMS workers, better pay elsewhere, and Bonnyville’s unattractive core-flex model of having workers on-call but not on-shift, has made the last couple months challenging for the BRFA.
“The authority is working with AHS on these issues and hopefully they’ll be able to find a resolution,” said Sobolewski.
The breakdown of added EMS staff is as follows: Edmonton (28), Calgary (30), Grande Prairie (8), Medicine Hat (8), Sylvan Lake (4), Vilna (4) St. Paul (4), Westlock (4).