The Ambulance Paramedics of British Columbia have reason to be optimistic about changes to the province’s ambulance system, says Troy Clifford, president of the paramedics union.
”We’re really excited about the opportunities that we’re seeing here,” Clifford said. “This is really the first hope we’ve had in a while that we’re on a path to getting back to the renowned ambulance service that we know we had and can get again.”
On July 14, Health Minister Adrian Dix announced the changes, which included a new board that will be in charge of ambulances in B.C., funding for new paramedics and dispatchers, new ambulances and the conversion of 22 rural ambulance stations from on-call to 24/7 service.
“We’ve been sounding the alarm on our staffing shortages, our incredible call volumes, we were exposed to vulnerabilities during the heat crisis,” said Clifford. “Going further than that, we’ve been dealing with the pressures around workload and fatigue and incredible call volumes.”
Since it is a province-wide system, ambulances can be dispatched from anywhere in the province to respond to calls. That means if a call comes in north of Campbell River and the closest available ambulance is based in Cumberland, that ambulance will respond to the scene. However, when communities have different service levels and staff issues, that can lead to frustration from other first responders and longer wait times for ambulances.
“That’s where (the fire department) are saying they’ve been frustrated because they’re not seeing immediate responses,” said Clifford. “Our partners as first responders like the fire department help us out in critical interventions, and that’s part of their role… When they’re seeing these delays, that’s impacting patient care. They’re obviously frustrated… The thing is they know this isn’t the paramedics’ fault or the dispatcher’s fault.”
He added: “I’m hopeful that this new model will address those needs so that we don’t see the delays that we have. Nobody should have to wait for an ambulance in their time of need. Every minute is eternity. When you call 911, you need to have immediate access. You can’t be put on hold.”
Additional resources were announced for communities in the north Island in April, but there are still some communities in the area on the older on-call model, where paramedics are paid $2 per hour for their on-call hours.
“Our challenges around our precarious work in the smaller communities (is) with the on-call model, which is a $2-an-hour model that has not helped with our recruitment and retention,” Clifford said.
Island communities that have not yet upgraded include Cumberland, Bowser and Port McNeill, which will all see upgrades in the near future.
“Reinforcing the ambulance service with more resources will further strengthen service for people on Vancouver Island. The work to convert 22 part time stations into full-time ALPHA stations will be of particular benefit in your region in the communities of Cumberland and Bowser. Further north, Port McNeill will also benefit from a conversion,” said the Ministry of Health in a release.
There is also relief announced for the paramedics and dispatchers, who have faced a difficult year and a half and have a tough summer ahead of them.
“There are impacts on all essential workers and frontline people,” Clifford said. “It’s been a tough year and a half for society. In our province, we’re looking at a tough summer with fires and interface stuff, some natural disasters we’re seeing, industrial accidents and all this stuff that we do every day.”