RDCK board, May 19: Meeting re: ambulance service requested with government officials

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Ambulance and paramedic staffing

Regional government leaders are going to meet to discuss an area-wide response to the ongoing stresses on ambulance and paramedic services in the West Kootenay.

The board passed a motion to ask for a meeting with the Ministry of Health and BC Emergency Health Services “to discuss decreasing availability of ambulance and paramedic services in our rural areas, which is leading to a critical level for baseline emergency care.”

“My ideal when we’re going to a meeting with the ministry, you go in with ‘yes, we know this is an issue, here is our proposed solution,’” said Chair Aimee Watson. “What is falling apart here is the local context is not being understood. They think they have solved it, and in some areas they have, but where they haven’t is what we have to bring to their attention. So that’s the strategy I see moving forward in getting the group meeting together.”

Local leaders have complained that changes to the BC Ambulance systems for payment and staffing have caused constant breaks in services in many regions. The problem is especially acute in Area D and the Kaslo area, but is being felt elsewhere as well.

Watson said representatives from all the RDCK’s municipalities and rural areas were welcome to come to the meeting, though no date was set at the board table.

Transit contract renewal

The renewal of BC Transit’s operating contract to provide public transportation in the regional district wasn’t in question—but directors took the opportunity to remind the service provider they are hearing a lot about staffing problems in parts of the RDCK.

The transit service, especially in the Nakusp-Kaslo-Slocan Valley, has seen chronic service interruptions for lack of staff, and finding new drivers has been a problem for months.

“It’s not like this situation is ours alone – the competition is there, taking place for drivers,” said Area E Director Ramona Faust. “So I hope BC Transit is paying attention to this, and where the competitive pressures are.”

“It doesn’t come down to the contractor falling down on the job… it’s multiple issues that have added up to a backlog in the system…” noted Silverton Director Leah Main. “We need to be doing some more communication about this situation. People are talking among themselves without referencing what the actual situation is… misinformation spreads like wildfire.”

Despite the problems, Main and the other directors noted the BC Transit contract was the only option available for public transit in the region, and they had to support it.

“The transit situation is stressful…” responded RDCK researcher and staff point person for BC Transit, Tom Dool. He noted getting drivers trained up with security clearances in place has delayed replacing missing drivers. “The entire system is backed up. Everyone is doing everything we possible can. We’re trying to triage the system, get people where they need to go… I hear every day from ridership on how this situation is affecting them. All I can say is BC Transit, the RDCK staff, and the contractor is taking this very seriously.”

The new agreement also limits annual fare increases to a maximum of 2.5% for the next three years. About 650,000 riders use public transit annually in the RDCK.

The board approved renewing BC Transit’s contract to next March.

Protection for bylaw and inspectors

The RDCK is going to look at formalizing how to respond to incidents where members of the public are harassing or being abusive towards RDCK staff working out in the field.

The board wants to standardize response to help protect staff like building inspectors or bylaw officers called out to properties to respond to complaints, or to conduct inspections.

The motion called on staff to prepare a draft policy to define “responses, procedures, and complaint processes to address harassment and abusive behaviour” directed at RDCK staff attending private properties in the course of their duties.

“We need to do something because of the retention of building inspectors is really important,” said Area G Director Hans Cunningham, who raised the issue.

The RDCK’s top bureaucrat said work was already underway on the issue.

“We are currently working on a respectful behaviour bylaw,” noted Stuart Horn, the RDCK’s chief administrative officer. “That bylaw allows us to take action against the public who might come into a rec centre and are abusive to staff, for instance. We can take action potentially up to banning people from the facility. We can take certain action on our facility property. But it doesn’t allow us to take action on private property, nor would it make sense to ban people from public facilities for behaviour to our staff on private property…”

The addition of a policy for abusive behaviour in the field would align with this new draft respectful behaviour bylaw, he said.

Among the ideas considered is having commissionaires attend with bylaw or building inspectors in problematic cases.

The ideas were part of a series of suggestions by Cunningham on dealing with improving training and retention of building inspectors.

But the idea didn’t sit well with some directors.

“It is a very sad day when we need to have bylaws for respectful behaviour. I can’t get over that,” said board Chair Watson. “It’s very disturbing… I do not want to regulate human behaviour whatsoever. But here we are.”

A staff report will be drawn up for directors to consider.

Hewat for FCM

A second member of the RDCK’s board of directors may soon have a role at the national forum for municipal government. The board endorsed Kaslo Mayor Suzan Hewat to run for the Federation of Canadian Municipalities’ board of directors.

Silverton Director Leah Main is already on the FCM executive, and Hewat sits on some policy committees as a non-board committee member. But directors heard more than one representative from the RDCK could apply to sit on the FCM board – the City of Toronto alone has had up to a dozen members on the executive in the past.

Should Hewat be elected, the cost of her travel and accommodation would be covered by the UBCM Small Communities Travel Fund, which exists to support representatives from smaller communities to more fully participate.

FCM meets in early June for its annual general meeting and to elect its new slate of directors for a one-year term. Main hopes to be re-elected to serve an eighth consecutive term.

John Boivin, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Valley Voice

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