After a night of one-hour waits for ambulances, union goes public with concerns

·2 min read

After a night of un-staffed ambulances and 911 call response times of up to an hour in Metro Vancouver on Friday, Feb. 19, the ambulance union went public, calling on the BC Ambulance Service to do better.

It was the urban area that hit a breaking point, but Ambulance Paramedics of British Columbia president Troy Clifford said the system is strained across the province, especially in the Kootenays and northern B.C.

The first five to 10 minutes in a medical emergency are critical for the best chance of positive outcomes, Clifford said.

BC Emergency Health Services which runs the ambulance and dispatch system in B.C. said in an emailed statement that staffing levels are stable overall, with the Friday night delays caused by a combination of higher than average calls that night, general increased calls relating to the opioid crisis and COVID-19, and some paramedics booking time off that night.

The ambulance service said the only calls with a one-hour wait time were less critical calls, but that life-threatening symptoms were still prioritized.

“Our median response time for these most critical “purple” and “red” calls in Vancouver and area on Friday was 10:03 and 9:14 minutes respectively,” COO Darlene MacKinnon said.

Clifford points at the BC Ambulance Service, saying they wait until a vacancy exists before posting the job, leading to delays in filling positions.

“Those are capacity issues, those are system issues that should not be holding up getting care to people.”

Hiring delays coupled with what Clifford says is a non-existent recruitment and retention strategy have culminated in February being the worst month yet for staffing shortages.

About three-quarters of the province is served by on-call paramedics who earn $2/hr when they’re on call, $15/hr on standby, and only get their full paramedic pay when they’re on an actual ambulance call.

On average, new paramedics put in four to five years as an on-call, part-time employee before getting a chance at a full-time job. For many, it’s unsustainable. In smaller regions, where new recruits often end up, the call volume is low to the point that they don’t make a living wage.

“We haven’t done a very good job of enticing people because we don’t have a lot to offer them in this model we have,” Clifford said.

Do you have something to add to this story or something else we should report on? Email: zoe.ducklow@blackpress.ca

Zoë Ducklow, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, North Island Gazette