© Photo special to The Guardian by Patrick Dean, IEMS paramedic
Island EMS ambulances
Paramedics in the province will have to continue following an Island EMS speed policy or face disciplinary action says, the president of CUPE local 3324.
Medavie EMS Group, the parent company of Island EMS, sent a memo to its staff on Feb. 9, 2009 informing them of a new vehicle operation code which restricts paramedics from driving no more than 10 to 20 km-h over the posted speed limit depending on where they are traveling, even in emergency situations.
The union got involved after at least one Island EMS paramedic was disciplined for breaking the company's speed policy, said Jason Woodbury, the president representing approximately 100 paramedics in the province.
"Our feeling was it also affected patient care," said Woodbury. "It didn't make sense to us to have that type of policy when our protocols dictate that time is essential."
The union filed a complaint with Island EMS and had several unsuccessful meetings trying to resolve the union's concerns with the company's policy.
The issue was then brought before an arbitration board at hearings held last September and January after talks between the two sides failed.
The arbitration board ruled in favour of Medavie EMS' speed policy, putting the brakes on a paramedic's discretion to drive at speeds they feel are necessary.
"It was ruling that the employer has the right to manage and operate on safety aspects and develop policies to incorporate within the organization," said Woodbury.
Paramedics working for New Brunswick's ambulance service, which is also owned by Medavie EMS, are able to choose their own speeds after employees and the employer found common ground, said Woodbury.
"The policy in New Brunswick and the policy in P.E.I. at one time were similar. Because of communications with the employees and the employer, the policy got changed. Here on P.E.I., we were unable to do that except for an arbitration process," he said. "We just wanted to have that discretion when it's called for. We don't want a license to speed and we don't want to be cowboys."
"It didn't make sense to us to have that type of policy when our protocols dictate that time is essential," Jason Woodbury, president of CUPE local 3324
Health Minister Carolyn Bertram met with Island EMS last year. Bertram said the issue of capping the speed limits of ambulances attending emergencies with lights and siren on is between Island EMS and its union.
"From what I see, this is ensuring patient safety," Bertram told The Guardian in March of 2010.
Bertram said if the province was to step in and try to override the speed restrictions put in place by Island EMS, it would be assuming the liability if somebody was to get hurt.
"This would be a liability issue for the province," she said.
Woodbury doesn't buy Bertram's statements.
"Certainly government would have the power to turn this around," he said. "Island EMS is contracted out by the province. I'm sure they have dictatorship over something."
Union officials did have the right to appeals the arbitration board's ruling but after consulting with legal staff, the union decided to leave the issue alone.
Woodbury noted that very few emergencies - around two per cent - are calls where paramedics would like to have the discrepancy to break the company's speed policy.
"Time is obviously crucial in any emergency, especially when it's related to heart or stroke," he said. "Time is tissue."