04/08/2014 10:18 EDT | Updated 06/08/2014 05:59 EDT

Paramedics say Manitoba's bad roads making it hard for them to do their job

WINNIPEG - Manitoba paramedics say crumbling roads are putting patients at risk, with gaping potholes making it difficult to perform medical procedures and forcing detours en route to hospital.

Eric Glass, administrative director of the Paramedic Association of Manitoba, said he hears complaints from his colleagues daily about the poor state of the province's roads.

Often the roads are so bad that it's dangerous for paramedics to move around the ambulance and drivers are forced to plot alternative routes, he said.

"It certainly makes it difficult to try to ensure our patients are comfortable and, at times, can impede some of the procedures that we want to carry out in the back of an ambulance," Glass said.

"If we're using an EKG machine to monitor heart activity, it's often difficult to tell (if) the activity shown on the electrical monitor is as a result of the rough road versus what we're looking at in a patient's heart."

With frigid winters and sweltering summers in Manitoba, residents often grumble about gaping potholes and bumpy highways.

Manitoba's governing NDP hiked the provincial sales tax last summer and has promised to spend every cent of that new revenue on fixing crumbling roads and bridges.

Glass said it can't happen soon enough.

About 150,000 patients are transported by ambulance each year in Manitoba and more than 10,000 are taken from rural hospitals into Winnipeg.

Premier Greg Selinger said the paramedics' concerns are an example of why the sales tax increase was necessary.

The revenue generated by increasing the sales tax from seven to eight per cent will fund a five-year infrastructure improvement plan totalling $5.5 billion, he said.

"Safe roads are good for Manitoba citizens and the paramedics know that," Selinger said Tuesday as he announced $28 million in highway improvements south of Winnipeg.

"Paramedics saying they want the roads to be safer is exactly why we've made infrastructure a top priority for our budget."

But Conservative member of the legislature Reg Helwer said Manitoba's roads are bad because of previous cuts the NDP made to infrastructure spending.

"When you don't maintain infrastructure like this government has fallen off on, then you get the big infrastructure failures," Helwer said. "Now you are seeing Manitobans having services compromised. This is having an impact on health-care delivery and how they're able to be safely transported to emergency facilities."

Paramedics in Manitoba are not the only ones who have raised concerns.

In Newfoundland, rural paramedics have said they have to pull over to use heart monitors because part of a road leading into St. John's is in such rough shape that the readings are unreliable. They say even manual blood pressure machines are virtually impossible to use when paramedics are being "bounced around like rag dolls."

In southwestern Saskatchewan, Highway 32 was repaired after poor road conditions made it impossible for ambulances to get to the hospital from areas outside of Swift Current.