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Free tuition program for paramedics 'excellent news' for Northwest

The chief of Superior North EMS says Ontario's move to extend a free tuition program to paramedics and lab technicians who commit to serve in the region will help address a "staffing crisis."
The chief of Superior North EMS says the Learn and Stay grant will help address staff shortages. (File photo)

THUNDER BAY — The paramedic agency serving Thunder Bay and the surrounding region is welcoming a provincial move to cover tuition and other costs for paramedic and laboratory technologist students who commit to staying in the region to work.

Superior North EMS chief Shane Muir called the announcement “excellent news” for the region in an interview on Friday, expecting it will help ease what he described as a shortstaffing crisis at the agency.

“We’re really excited about this initiative, because it’s going to help with our recruitment, it’s going to help our frontline staff,” he said.

“Right now, we’re in the middle of a staffing crisis. We’re having a hard time filling shifts across our region. This is just one great step towards improving those conditions.”

The Learn and Stay grant was introduced by the province last year for nursing students, covering tuition, books, and other direct educational costs in exchange for a commitment to work in their region of study for a term of service.

The government announced Friday it would extend the grant to 2,500 students enrolled in paramedic and medical laboratory technologist or laboratory sciences programs in “priority communities.”

That includes Northern Ontario for paramedic programs, or Northern Ontario and Southwestern Ontario for the laboratory programs.

“We recognize the staffing pressures in our hospitals, long-term care homes and health care facilities in the Northwest,” said Kenora-Rainy River MPP Greg Rickford in a statement. “We are confident that innovative solutions and partnerships such as these will improve health outcomes for Northerners.”

The union representing Superior North EMS paramedics has called attention to staff shortages, saying they’ve contributed to unmanageable workloads and burnout.

Significant recruitment challenges and growing WSIB claims, many of which are related to mental health, have forced the service to lean on existing staff for overtime and sometimes deny vacation requests, Muir acknowledged.

He’s hoping the Learn and Stay program will help encourage more regional residents to pursue careers in the field.

Grant applications for the 2023-24 academic year will open in the spring, the government said. More information is available online.

Recipients must commit to work in the region where they studied for a minimum of six months for every year of study funded by the grant.

Superior North EMS will work with Confederation College to support the Learn and Stay program, Muir said.

Agency paramedics already serve as preceptors for the college’s paramedic program, helping to supervise students over the course of 450 required hours of ambulance time.

In addition to Confederation College, a paramedic program at Seven Generations Education Institute in Fort Frances and Kenora will be eligible, along with others from schools based in Sault Ste. Marie, Sudbury, North Bay, and Timmins.

The province says it has committed $61 million over the next three years to support the Learn and Stay grant.

In a statement provided by the government, the Ontario Hospital Association and Ontario Association of Medical Laboratories also welcomed Friday’s announcement.


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