Pressure mounts on paramedics, ambulance dispatchers as Omicron makes staffing shortfalls worse

·2 min read
A paramedic is pictured at St. Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver, British Columbia on Monday, Jan. 10, 2022.  (Ben Nelms/CBC - image credit)
A paramedic is pictured at St. Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver, British Columbia on Monday, Jan. 10, 2022. (Ben Nelms/CBC - image credit)

The union representing paramedics and ambulance dispatchers in B.C. says staffing shortfalls due to the Omicron variant is putting more pressure on paramedics and making a bad situation progressively worse.

"We've already been working in an already challenged and stressed system and then you add the additional staffing issues because of community exposures to Omicron and COVID," said Troy Clifford, president of the Ambulance Paramedics of B.C.

He said nearly half of the ambulances scheduled to respond to 911 calls were left parked this weekend due to a paramedic shortage — a challenge that's impacting the entire province.

"We had spikes of up to 50 ambulances out of service out of about 120 of our transport capable ambulances," he said. "A lot of communities are down to one ambulance or no ambulance, so they have to be covered by another community. That's proven to be problematic obviously."

Since summer, he said, an average of 30 per cent of paramedic positions have been unfilled and paramedics are continuing to feel the pressure.

"Paramedics and dispatchers are really fatigued and tired and that's causing psychological injuries," Clifford said.

B.C. Emergency Health Services (BCEHS) said in a statement to CBC News it is monitoring staff sickness and making daily adjustments as needed to mitigate absences.

"Our emergency co-ordination centre within BCEHS is working on contingency plans to maintain patient and staff safety in the event there are dramatic rises in staff sickness. Where possible, and/or as required, BCEHS redeploys staff and/or ambulances from other areas/stations/communities to provide emergency coverage," it said.

Clifford says monitoring and making plans is not enough.

"We need actual, meaningful change and we need resources. We need funding and we need to implement the things that we've been talking about," he said.

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