Paramedic speaks out against Edmonton Remand Centre eliminating his job

An Edmonton Remand Centre paramedic says his job is being eliminated – so what will happen to the 1300+ inmates when they need emergency care? Sarah Chew finds out what’s behind the changes.

By Sarah Chew

Damian Cunningham said he was the first full-time paramedic hired at the Edmonton Remand Centre. Now eight years later he got a letter from his manager saying he and the three other paramedics are being let go and offered other positions — but he doesn’t understand why.

“There’s not a good reason that anybody can come up with,” said Cunningham. “It’s not due to money; nurses cost more than paramedics. So having us four work there is cheaper.”

The advanced care paramedic said he and his paramedic coworkers have been offered ambulance positions – but without their care, inmates’ lives will be at risk.

“I guarantee patients will die. Nurses do the best they can; they’ve been terrific through the COVID times, but they’re not trained in emergency medicine.”

In addition, he said this could increase the number of code reds in Edmonton – times where no ambulance is available to respond to emergency calls immediately.

“Many times, having a paramedic there, we’re able to stabilize the patient,” said Cunningham, “Lots of fights in the jail, broken bones, so we can put them in a splint. We can give them pain medicine. And potentially then they can go out by van, which doesn’t tie up an ambulance from the public, and it can be done at the convenience of the officers.”

CityNews reached out to the justice minister’s office and the manager at the remand centre and both directed us to an email comment from AHS.

“AHS is aligning its Correctional Health Services at the Edmonton Remand Centre with the rest of the province to ensure patients have access to the most appropriate care,” said AHS spokesperson Kerry Williamson in the email, “All correctional health patients will continue to receive the care they need. Care will be provided by Registered Nurses instead of paramedics.”

But Cunningham says care from registered nurses won’t be enough.

“Nurses are great; they have their own discipline,” said Cunningham, “But if we work as a team, we get much more done. That patient could be pulseless for 30 minutes and have no chance at survival.”

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