'I think we need to look at our whole system and re-evaluate how these calls come in.' - Tim Scharer, Winnipeg Paramedics Local 911.
Winnipeg (4 June 2009) -Two members from the Winnipeg Paramedics Local 911 may have been exposed to the H1N1 virus, while transporting patients to the Health Sciences Centre.
The patients were flown from St. Theresa Point First Nation to Winnipeg with a nurse, where they were picked up by a Winnipeg ambulance.
The paramedics are members of the Manitoba Government and General Employees' Union (MGEU/NUPGE).
Neither of the two paramedics has exhibited symptoms of the flu but all precautions have been taken to eliminate the risk of spreading the virus. Both were given a nasal swab and a deep cleaning of their ambulance was performed. They are now off duty and are waiting to hear if they have the virus.
The one frustrating part for everyone involved is why the paramedics were not informed of possible H1N1 exposure beforehand. Instead, they learned of the risk from Health Sciences Centre (HSC) staff once they had arrived.
All Winnipeg paramedics have been given full gowns, gloves and N95 masks to use when responding to these suspected cases. But in this particular instance, the chain of communication to warn them of potential exposure broke down at some point.
Don't point fingers
Tim Scharer, vice-president of Local 911, says the focus should not be on pointing fingers to find who’s to blame, but instead should be placed on improving the system to ensure members aren’t placed at risk again.
For a normal Winnipeg 911 call, the intake call goes through a number of questions by staff to diagnose the problem and screen for potential risks. Then it’s transferred to the dispatcher who can warn paramedics if any precautions are needed.
In this case, a nursing station and a private airline (which transported the patients) were involved, adding a number of links to the chain of communication and increasing the potential for error. This is something that Scharer would like to see changed.
“I think we need to look at our whole system and re-evaluate how these calls come in and how that information is relayed,” he says. “Maybe one large intake centre for the entire province would help, perhaps there’s another solution. One way or another it’s important for us to improve the system.”
Last month, 41 residents of St. Theresa Point were transported to Winnipeg for medical care. At least 14 of those patients reported a respiratory illness. To date, there have been 38 confirmed cases of H1N1 in Manitoba.
The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) is one of Canada's largest labour organizations with over 340,000 members. Our mission is to improve the lives of working families and to build a stronger Canada by ensuring our common wealth is used for the common good. NUPGE