Niagara EMS worker says they’ve become ‘shiny targets’ for anger

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Published March 14, 2022 at 10:45 am

For a system already strained beyond its limits, being a paramedic in Niagara Region is only getting tougher as the delay times for ambulances are getting longer.

Shortages of staff has been an issue for more than a year with Niagara Centre MPP Jeff Burch telling Doug Ford in December at Queen’s Park, “Right now in Niagara, there aren’t enough ambulances or paramedics to help people experiencing medical emergencies. Families should not have to face the anguish of waiting for long periods of time by their sick or injured loved ones, wondering when the ambulance will finally arrive.”

Two months ago, a paramedic told the media that Niagara Region EMS went nine straight hours on January 21 without an available ambulance – a frightening situation called a “Code Zero” in the business.

The shortage only makes the job that much harder on Niagara EMS workers facing the public on calls, some of whom having been waiting hours for the ambulance to show up.

Leigh Paugh is a paramedic with Niagara EMS, as well as the equality officer with their union, CUPE 911. She also serves on the Indigenous Council of CUPE Ontario.

She sat down with TVO recently to let the TV station hear first-hand how bad the situation has gotten in Niagara.

Noting that the community-at-large doesn’t understand why they are sometimes waiting for hours for an ambulance to show, when they finally do, “We’re a target that has shiny, bright lights when we come up to their homes. We’re the first ones they see and the first ones that get an earful.”

She added she completely understands the frustration, admitting she would feel the same thing if her family was waiting in an emergency, so to quell public anger on calls, it’s become “a matter of defusing and educating and trying to get people to understand what we’re facing.”

Angry confrontations between EMS workers and the public have only increased, she added. “In mid-January, I was with a brand-new medic, and a man was yelling at us from his porch when we were putting on our PPE. We’re putting on our gowns, our goggles, our masks, our gloves – getting all our equipment out – and this man’s yelling at us, calling us ‘sheeple’.”

The problem has become that the public is so angered, they don’t realize they’re impeding the very folks who are there to help.

“I call us paramedics ‘human doormats’ because we often let people vent or take their frustrations out on us. Words do hurt – don’t get me wrong. I think each individual is unique in how they face or deal with it. I had a person that threatened to rape me and kill my family.”

All of abuse EMS workers face certainly makes for a thicker skin but clearly, that was never part of the job description.

“I think the culture and expectation is that we’ve accepted harassment as part of our job, which doesn’t make it right,” said Paugh. “So many times, something terrible happens, and you just brush it off or take a deep breath and move on to the next thing. But that doesn’t make it right.”


Leila Paugh is a paramedic with Niagara EMS.
(Photo: YouTube)

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