A citizen’s lobby for improved ambulance service in Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows is mobilizing, and a Maple Ridge city councillor has pledged to support the effort.
Coun. Tyler Shymkiw wrote a long communique on the Facebook page Protecting Maple Ridge, which is generally focused on issues around homelessness. In it, he agreed with citizen Matt Kelso’s assertion that Maple Ridge is underserved, with just two ambulances operating out of Station 257, and offered to support a citizens initiative.
“Matt Kelso is absolutely right about needing another ambulance. We have been working on this, and public support is very important,” he wrote.
“It would be very helpful if the public also communicated this desire to MLA Doug Bing, and encourage him to advocate for this service. “
Shymkiw added that if Kelso wants to put together a petition, he would ensure it goes to the right provincial agency, and would support members from the group if they want to put together a citizen committee about the matter.
Kelso has considerable self-interest in seeing a good paramedic service locally. He has brain cancer.
“If I have a stroke or a seizure, and both ambulances are tied up, and it takes an hour for a bus to come from Burnaby, that will probably kill me,” he said.
He listens to emergency communications on a scanner, and said it is not unusual for both ambulances to be tied up with patients. Kelso said the population of homeless people in Maple Ridge puts greater demand on emergency services, and he has heard the ambulances responding to drug overdoses just six minutes apart. The drug fentanyl, a synthetic drug used like heroin, is causing more overdoses.
Kelso said he does not want the ambulance issue to become clouded by people critical of how the issue of homelessness and drug use is being handled in Maple Ridge.
“Let’s unite behind something,” he said.
He plans to get to work immediately, collecting signatures outside of grocery stores for his new petition.
John Strohmaier, spokesperson for the Paramedics union, CUPE local 873, appreciates the public support.
“We certainly hope they have some chance for success,” he said, noting his group is still advocating for improved service across the province.
A recent union investigation found 22 new ambulances are needed in Greater Vancouver. Then service would be able to meet the national standard of 8:59 (nine minutes) response time for a Code 3 emergency call, the union contends.
“As far as Maple Ridge is concerned, I would be surprised if we ever meet that standard,” he said.
Paramedics must stay with a patient until hospital staff take them into care, and crowded emergency rooms mean these emergency responders can stay tied up for hours.
“The resources have not kept up with the ever-increasing number of calls,” said Strohmaier.
The 22 proposed cars would ideally be staffed for 24 hours by two paramedics each.
However, the union has asked government to at least consider single responder units, to get to emergencies quickly.
It is also promoting the idea of community paramedics, who offer limited medical services to lower-priority patients right in their homes, rather than transporting them to hospital emergency wards.
Full-time firefighters pick up the slack to ensure that patients get a fast emergency response, but Strohmaier said that isn’t a permanent solution.
“There is a reliance of fire departments, and fire departments do a great job as first responders,” he said. “But people in need of medical care and transport need an ambulance service.”
He noted that firefighters can’t transport patients, and “their treatments are very basic as well.”
Pitt Meadows Fire Chief Don Jolley agreed with that assessment.
He said the treatments offered by firefighters are “not even remotely close to what paramedics can do.
“My personal view is the ambulance service is seriously understaffed in the Lower Mainland, in general,” he said, and added that Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows are included in that.
About one-third of the call volume in Pitt Meadows is as first responders in a health emergency, he said. Local firefighters have seen long waits for an ambulance to arrive.
He sees weeding out non-emergency calls as an important part of the solution. If there is a drug overdose, that is a serious health issue, but the ambulance that would respond to that call might be tied up by someone who calls in with a broken toe.
“Firefighters play an important role as first responders,” said Jolley, but expecting the fire service to fill in those gaps is not the solution.”
Backing the paramedics, Jolley expressed frustration with any desire on the part of government to study the issue further.
“They have lots and lots of data, but the province is turning its back on the need,” he said.
A spokesperson for the B.C. Emergency Health Services, which oversees the Ambulance Service, said the group is conducting a deployment and demand review of its own, and the results will be known early in the new year.
She said a petition from a community for increased service would be taken into consideration.
“We do take all feedback seriously, and we value input from municipalities on how to improve patient care,” said Prit Grewal.
• Anyone interested in working toward expanded ambulance service in Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows can contact Kelso by email at firstname.lastname@example.org