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Remanded Edmonton healthcare workers say loss of paramedics threatens safety

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Healthcare workers at the Edmonton Remand Center (ERC) say the decision to withdraw paramedics from the scene will compromise emergency care and put inmates at risk in Canada’s largest prison.

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ERC staff received a memo late last month stating that four paramedic positions at the facility will be cut after June 3. work at the ERC.

Paramedics have worked at the Edmonton Remand Center for nearly a decade, beginning shortly after the huge, 1,952-inmate capacity facility opened in 2013. Internal emails sent to ERC staff, obtained by Postmedia, show that many nurses are alarmed by Alberta Health Services. (AHS) foresees the change.

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One called the news “scary and stressful”, warning there is a “danger” in not having paramedics. Other nurses said they hoped the decision could be reconsidered.

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“I have to admit (this) news seriously upset me and others here at the ERC. It was shocking and disturbing,” another nurse wrote days after the memo was sent.

A nurse described how the ability of paramedics to administer life-saving drugs in emergencies has prevented deaths in custody.

“With the elimination of our paramedics, there will not only be an influx of potentially preventable deaths, but an influx of EMS calls for people who, had a paramedic been on the scene, could have been prevented and/or stabilized.”

The AHS memo, obtained by Postmedia, says the way admissions and discharges work at the ERC is changing, “and we need to be able to utilize staff broadly”. It also says the move will “align” the ERC with other provincial correctional facilities.

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“There will obviously be a gap created in our current response to medical emergencies, but we will still have a community EMS response and have started training nurses in new areas to meet the needs,” he says.

In a statement, an AHS spokesperson said ERC inmates “will continue to receive the care they need.”

Edmonton Remand Center.
Edmonton Remand Center. Postmedia, file

Vulnerable ERC inmates could die, paramedic says

Damian Cunningham, one of the advanced care paramedics who works at the remand centre, said he was blindsided by the news of his departure.

He publicly raises concerns because he believes the decision will cost lives.

“If management could come up with some kind of reasoning as to why this makes sense it won’t increase mortality, give it to me,” he said.

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Remand centers are where people accused of crimes are held until they are tried or released on bail, which means most people have not been convicted of an ongoing offence.

Drug addicts, who may be struggling with withdrawal-related health issues, are often placed in the care of the ERC. Other remand centers in Alberta are also transferring medically complex inmates to Edmonton because there is more capacity to deal with them.

“Without advanced care, a significant number of these people will die, as we take more people off the streets during admissions,” Cunningham said. “That’s why our number of emergencies is much higher than that of other centers.”

Registered nurses are not trained as first responders in the same way as advanced care paramedics, who also have specific training for emergency procedures and the authority to give a variety of life-saving medications.

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Cunningham said that despite the decision to “match” other correctional centers, the size of the ERC makes it impossible to compare with other prisons in Alberta. It is almost three times larger than the Calgary Remand Centre, which can accommodate 684 inmates. Remand centers in Medicine Hat and Red Deer each have a capacity of less than 200 inmates.

Including staff, Cunningham said around 2,500 people can be at the ERC each day.

“That’s the call volume of a small town.”

If ERC staff have to resort to calling an ambulance in an emergency, Cunningham added, they will wait longer and add more pressure to an EMS system already under a 30% increase in volume. calls.

Alberta Health Services EMS ambulances are seen near the University of Alberta Hospital in Edmonton, Tuesday, March 22, 2022.
Alberta Health Services EMS ambulances are seen near the University of Alberta Hospital in Edmonton, Tuesday, March 22, 2022. Photo by Ian Kucerak /Postmedia

AHS says paramedics are leaving due to ‘staffing model change’

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According to AHS, the ERC currently has 166 full-time correctional health care staff and 67 casual health care staff.

The health authority said replacing paramedics with more nurses is a “shift in staffing model” so that nurses rather than paramedics can assess inmates upon admission.

“This will expedite any further assessment or treatment a client may require, including access to Suboxone treatment for opioid use disorder upon admission,” a spokesperson for the NIHA said. AHS in an email, adding that nurses will also do more “safe transitioning and planned discharge.” for sexually transmitted and blood-borne infections.

United Nurses of Alberta (UNA) President Heather Smith said the union has begun the process of filing a professional liability complaint regarding the dismissal of paramedics at the ERC.

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“It came out of the blue, the decision to have a different model of care – and quite honestly, I’m tired of hearing about different models of care, which usually means, ‘We want you do more with less”” she says.

“Why would you take additional and unnecessary risks when you can benefit from the complementary services (of the paramedics)? Seconds count.

Amy Matychuk, a Calgary-based prison justice lawyer, handles cases where people have been injured in provincial and federal correctional facilities.

She said it is often “politically unpopular” to stand up for detainees, but people should be concerned about the quality of health care they can access.

“Because they’re out of public view, it’s easy for anyone living in their beautiful suburban home to forget that they have human rights too, and that no matter what they’ve been convicted of – if they were found guilty,” she said.

“They are still entitled to a basic level of humane treatment.”

— With files by Jonny Wakefield

[email protected]

Twitter: @meksmith

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