The Bella Coola ambulance was only in-service 52 per cent of July, Lesley Pritchard, communications for BC Emergency Health Services (BCEHS) stated in an email.
The in-service average over the past year was higher, at 75 per cent, but was still equivalent to one week per month without ambulance services.
A recently-retired paramedic in the community, Jeffrey Snow, blamed the lack of coverage on a new staffing model that was introduced last fall.
The Scheduled On-Call (SOC) shifts are, in general, eight hours of work at full wages and 16 hours on-call for three-day rotations, Pritchard stated. The previous model relied almost entirely on paramedics carrying pagers whereas the new model sets regular hours for paramedics at the stations.
However, when staff are on-call they only receive $2 per hour, Snow said. Therefore, if there are no emergencies during their shift outside of regular hours, paramedics are only paid regular wages for 24 hours and an additional $96 for three 16-hour periods of on-call.
“We’re trying to encourage the community to step up and start being available to take these calls but the attraction for the SOC is just not there. And pay is not there. And so people can’t pay their mortgage on 24 hours a week pay,” Snow said.
BC Emergency Health Services were still working to fill the four permanent positions in Bella Coola as of Aug. 23, Pritchard wrote.
To cover the shifts in the interim, paramedics from well-served areas were travelling to Bella Coola through locum placements.
Samuel Schooner, chief of the Nuxalk Nation, spoke to Black Press Media on Aug. 15 about his concern regarding ambulance staffing in Bella Coola. He wants to know the cost to bring locum placements into the community and wonders whether it would be cheaper if they were still using the old system.
Pritchard did not disclose the specific cost for locum placements but did say that BCEHS pays for flights, accommodation and meal allowances at standard corporate rates and that this is part of their ongoing operational support for maintaining service to patients in more rural and remote regions.
BC Emergency Health Services initiated a review of their response to a patient in Bella Coola on July 23, when a woman called the emergency number and the closest in-service ambulance was in Anahim Lake, two hours away, Pritchard stated.
Police responded to the call and conducted CPR but the woman died.
“We appreciate the heroic efforts of the police responders to offer care to this patient,” Pritchard stated.
They will be working with the Patient Care Quality Office to reach out to the patient’s family, she added.
Kaitlyn Bailey, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Prince Rupert Northern View