‘This isn’t good enough’: Hastings-Quinte paramedics call for more to be done about Belleville opioid crisis

Photo via Hastings County

Paramedics in Hastings-Quinte are calling for “much more to be done” regarding Belleville’s opioid crisis.

The city declared a state of emergency last month related to a growing addictions, mental health and homelessness crisis.

Rob Cunningham, President of CUPE Local 1842, representing the paramedics of the Hastings-Quinte Paramedic Service, expressed deep concern for the toll it’s taking on their employees.

“We’re seeing an incredible explosion in calls to respond to overdoses and we’re doing our best, but this isn’t sustainable,” Cunningham said in a media release. “Paramedics are experiencing PTSD, burning out because they’re skipping meal breaks, and stretched thin responding to a range of emergencies, including these complex overdose calls.

“The reality is we aren’t getting that time to refill our cup before getting out there again to support our community,” Cunningham continued.

In February, 14 people overdosed within a two-hour period. Moreover, the chief of the region’s Paramedic Service stated in an op-ed in Maclean’s: “We usually get six or seven calls for suspected overdoses each week, but in the first week of November in 2023, we responded to 90 calls.”

As a result, Mayor Neil Ellis declared a state of emergency and issued a request to the province for additional resources.

In response, the Ontario government allocated $216,000 in funding, which falls significantly short of the $2 million requested by the mayor.

“This isn’t good enough,” Cunningham emphasized. “The opioid crisis is only exposing the decades of underfunding that have left us understaffed and stretched thin. We need significant and sustained funding – not one-time infusions – to ensure that we can properly recruit and retain paramedics to respond to this continuing crisis.”

The gravity of the situation calls for immediate action, Cunningham said. “This crisis isn’t going away—we need all levels of government to acknowledge the plea for help and address the problem accordingly,” he concluded.

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