With health care worker shortages still heavily affecting the province, many people on both sides of the issues are scrambling to find solutions to prevent more B.C. residents from unnecessarily dying while they wait for ambulances.
From the healthcare workers perspective, this is the result of issues that they have been speaking out against for years.
“This is the result of years of neglect,” said Ambulance Paramedics of BC spokesperson Dave Leary. “The government over the past 20 years hasn’t paid much attention to the ambulance service, but they’re finally working hard on it now.”
“The paramedic service has been poorly paid and resourced for many years,” added Maple Ridge Mayor Mike Morden. “The overdose response requests every day, gradually escalating since 2014, is a significant contributor to dispatch and paramedic overload.”
Many consider the tipping point of these issues to have been the start of the pandemic, which took a huge toll on frontline workers.
“The pandemic caused a great strain on the healthcare system, not to mention the opioid crisis, which has also caused a lot of burnout among healthcare professionals,” said Leary. “The longer all of this goes on, the more burnout workers will experience, with some of them leaving the profession entirely.”
A poll done earlier this year by the B.C. Hospital Employees’ Union confirmed Leary’s statement, revealing that over a third of health care workers are likely to leave the industry within the next two years.
To try and stop the situation from becoming worse, municipal and provincial governments have introduced several measures within the past year.
“Since 2021, we have added 500 more paramedic positions in rural and remote communities, and at least 125 in urban centres, and there’s still more work to be done,” said Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows MLA Lisa Beare.
BC Emergency Health Services (BCEHS) has also done their part to ramp up hiring efforts lately.
“BCEHS currently has 75 per cent of its regular permanent full-time and part-time positions filled and is recruiting approximately 25 per cent of these positions in regions throughout BC,” said director of corporate communications Lesley Pritchard.
“We have launched a national recruitment campaign to bring qualified paramedics and dispatch staff to B.C. to help fill remaining vacancies and to build capacity for the future.”
However, as Leary notes, ongoing recruitment will only get the province so far.
“You can only train so many paramedics at a time,” he said. “To even get licensed in the first place, there are only certain times of year that you can write your exam. And after that, there’s the new hire orientation that you have to go through. The level of training required is extensive. It’s not a simple entry level job that you can easily start.”
Morden explained that quick fixes aren’t enough, and local governments need to start looking for ways to fix the overarching strain being put on the health care system.
“Ideally, our society needs to facilitate its members to better function, health, and long-term wellness, rather than continue to run a M.A.S.H. unit with a first aid kit,” he said.
In the meantime, Leary and the paramedics union emphasized that the entire province’s ambulance network is in critical condition and the time for action is now.
“This problem has always been there, but in the last four to six years, it’s really been exacerbated,” said Leary.
“We’ve always been able to cope with it, up until now. It’s gotten to the point where it’s critical and it’s not going to get better immediately no matter what we do.”
Have a story tip? Email: email@example.com
Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.