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Toronto paramedics walk off job over lagging Ebola preparedness

Paramedics attend the scene of an assault near Finch and Dufferin July 20, 2014. CITYNEWS

The Ministry of Labour has ordered as many as 10 Toronto paramedics back to work after they told their union Ebola fears were keeping them off the job.

The Toronto Paramedic Services (TPS) employees submitted refusal to work papers to their union on Monday, saying they wouldn’t go back to the job until they received proper training on Ebola procedures.

The Ministry of Labour ordered the paramedics back to work, arguing hypothetical situations are not legitimate reasons to refuse work.

TPS spokesperson Kim McKinnon said the work refusals did not disrupt ambulance service.

“Toronto Paramedic Services is very aware of the concerns of our employees related to treating suspected Ebola patients and is committed to providing the best training and equipment to manage any emergency in the community,” McKinnon said in a statement.

According to an order from the labour ministry, Toronto paramedics were supposed to be trained on Ebola procedures by Oct. 23.

But the TPS unit chair for CUPE local 416, Mike Merriman, said only one-third of paramedics had been properly trained by Oct. 27.

Merriman estimates it will be about three more weeks to get all staff trained.

He added that training is happening in so-called tailgate sessions, when a supervisor catches up with an on-duty crew, trying to squeeze in training between calls.

In Peel Region, Ebola preparedness training started Tuesday and is expected to take about a week, said Peter Dundas, chief of Peel Regional Paramedic Services.

Dundas said he is still waiting for a directive from the Ministry of Labour on how paramedics should handle Ebola, similar to the directive hospitals and nurses received last week. He said that will be available in about one week.

Full statement from Toronto Paramedic Services:

On Monday, October 27, eight Toronto Paramedics tabled what is known as a “work refusal.” Their concerns were all related to training and equipment to be used in the treatment of patients who might be suspected of having Ebola.

Toronto Paramedic Services followed a process to manage these concerns as required by the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA), including contacting a Ministry of Labour (MOL) inspector to attend and review the employees concerns. Following the MOL inspector’s review the employees returned to work.

There was no interruption to Toronto Paramedic Services. The service has procedures in place to ensure the necessary resources are available when unexpected events occur.

Toronto Paramedic Services is very aware of the concerns of our employees related to treating suspected Ebola patients and is committed to providing the best training and equipment to manage any emergency in the community.

That is why Toronto Paramedic Services has been proactive to mitigate risk to its staff and its patients including implementing and reinforcing the following:

Actively screening 911 emergency calls for infectious disease to alert paramedics prior to their arrival of any potential infectious disease risk, including Ebola.

Providing personal protective equipment (PPE) to safely manage patients with infectious disease, including Ebola.

Purchasing the most up to date enhanced PPE for the management of suspected Ebola patients.

Providing one-on-one instruction between Supervisors and Paramedics related to the use of personal protective equipment and management of patients with infectious disease, including Ebola.

Employees can call for their Superintendent to support them when treating a patient with possible infectious disease, including Ebola, at any time.

These protective procedures were reviewed and approved as effective for Ebola protection by the Toronto Paramedic Services’ internal medical expert, Dr. MacDonald, in consultation with our many health-care partners, including Sunnybrook Base Hospital, the Ministry of Health and Long-term Care and Public Health Ontario.

Mobile users click here to see a list of concerns investigated by the Ministry of Labour.

Ebola-related investigations at Peel, Hamilton, and Toronto paramedics