"What we have come to the conclusion on . is that next fall no paramedic
get the flu shot, period. And then what's management going to do?" Baker

 Twenty paramedics sent home for not having obtained a flu shot.

Jordan Press

Monday, January 29, 2007 - 00:00

Local News - By Jordan Press

Whig-Standard Staff Writer

The number of paramedics in the city is down dramatically after
approximately 20 were sent home without pay for not having obtained a flu

The move has forced management to take over for those taken off duty;
part-time workers have been called in; and remaining full-time workers are
being offered more overtime to compensate for the loss of bodies.

"And they've already had problems staffing the vehicles," said Terry Baker,
president of OPSEU Local 462, which represents about 120 paramedics in the

"The scenario it creates is it could . limit the amount of vehicles needed
for emergency coverage."

The County of Frontenac, which oversees ambulance operations for this
region, keeps nine vehicles on the road during the day and five at night.

Each ambulance has two paramedics assigned to it.

There are 62 full-time paramedics and about 40 part-time staff. There are
also 22 volunteers on Wolfe Island.

Paramedics who didn't get a flu shot were sent home without pay after the
public health unit declared an influenza outbreak last week.

On Thursday, Kingston, Frontenac, Lennox & Addington Public Health declared
an influenza outbreak at Providence Continuing Care Centre's Mental Health
Services site. At last count, there were three linked cases of the flu, said
medical officer of health Dr. Ian Gemmill.

The outbreak was the first of the season and the first declared outbreak in
recent years.

"We've been very lucky. We had two years of no declared outbreaks in
Kingston, Frontenac, Lennox and Addington," said Paul Charbonneau, the
county's chief of paramedic services.

Paramedics were given three options: get the flu shot, take an antiviral
such as Tamiflu, or stay home for the duration of the outbreak without pay.

"So those options were presented," Charbonneau said. "What choices they
decided to make I can't discuss."

Some paramedics don't take the flu shot because they are allergic to it,
Baker said. There are also concerns about taking Tamiflu because of
potential side-effects from the antiviral drug, he said.

"And the drug plan will not cover it. The employee would have to pay for the
medication on their own."

At first, four paramedics from the day shift were sent home and two from the
night shift were told to not come to work, Baker said. More were sent home
over the ensuing days.

By law, paramedics don't have to get the flu shot. In 2002, the province
pushed for legislation that would have forced personnel to get the flu shot,
but backed down after a strong union response.

Instead, wording was put in place that didn't require a flu shot, but
required some action in the event an influenza outbreak was declared.

No other medical profession is required to have a flu shot, Baker said.

Local paramedics are upset over the situation, he said, adding the union is
prepared to take action next year to make its point.

"What we have come to the conclusion on . is that next fall no paramedic get
the flu shot, period. And then what's management going to do?" Baker said.

"We all entered the job to take care of the sick, ill and injured, but at
some point you've got to make a stand."

Gemmill said all medical professionals should get the flu shot for health
and legal reasons.

"This is the ambulance policy and we support them 100 per cent," Gemmill

Lawmakers erred when they singled out paramedics for mandatory vaccinations
five years ago, Gemmill said.

The vaccine is safe and helps prevent spread of the disease, he said. Last
week, workers from the public health unit spoke with paramedics about the
shot, Gemmill said.

He said he, too, has problems with Tamiflu, but not the same ones as the
union. The antiviral drug shouldn't be used in lieu of the flu shot, but to
control outbreaks, he said.

Using it otherwise would encourage resistance, Gemmill said.

The situation also comes as the county and the union representing paramedics
are close to ratifying a new contract - the first one for emergency workers
in three years.

Members of OPSEU Local 462 have been without a contract since the province
downloaded ambulance service to the county three years ago.

On the weekend, the two sides met from 8 a.m. Saturday to 5 a.m. yesterday
to reach an agreement. The union wanted wording in place regarding flu shots
and influenza outbreaks.

Nothing, however, was resolved on that point, Baker said. Nonetheless, Baker
said the union's bargaining unit will recommend the deal to members at a
general meeting next month.