Medical first responders have been in short supply in the Lower Mainland recently according to Ambulance Paramedics of British Columbia president, Troy Clifford. (Blackpress files) 
During an average weekend day shift in Vancouver. BCEHS have about 71 ambulances operating; and 61 ambulances operating overnight. (Joshua Berson photo)

Medical first responders have been in short supply in the Lower Mainland recently according to Ambulance Paramedics of British Columbia president, Troy Clifford. (Blackpress files) During an average weekend day shift in Vancouver. BCEHS have about 71 ambulances operating; and 61 ambulances operating overnight. (Joshua Berson photo)

Paramedics feeling the strain of COVID, the opioid crisis, and staffing shortages says union pres

Half the ambulances which serve an area including Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows were un-staffed Thursday

Ambulance Paramedics of BC president Troy Clifford said recent staffing shortages in the Lower Mainland are some of the worst he has seen in his 33 years in the profession.

“It’s been really tough on the paramedics, and ultimately the patients,” he said.

The union have been spreading the message on social media in the hopes the staffing issues will be addressed by BC Emergency Health Services.

On Thursday, March 4, it posted a tweet saying: “Tough night for Paramedics and Dispatchers across province with ambulances out of service. Tonight there are only three ambulances covering Maple Ridge, Poco, Pitt Meadows, Coquitlam, New West and Burnaby. Be safe everyone. #staffingcrisis #paramedics #besafe”

BCEHS spokesperson Shannon Miller contradicted Clifford in an email to The News, noting there were actually seven ambulances operating in those communities on that evening, and said the area would have been supported by neighbouring emergency crews.

Clifford countered by saying there are supposed to be 15 ambulances, so the community is still being underserved.

READ MORE: Dr. Bonnie Henry predicts a ‘post-pandemic world’ for B.C. this summer

The union pres said last Sunday, Feb. 28, was one of the worst nights paramedics had seen.

Many were out of service in the Lower Mainland, Clifford said, which resulted in some delays of up to two hours for assistance.

BCEHS’ Miller said the highest number of out-of-service ambulances – which includes any times when vehicles are unable to respond to an event – that evening was 17, and noted on the weekend of Feb 28, only two calls out of 181 in Vancouver and the Fraser Valley, saw a response time of more than an hour.

The job is difficult on its own, but the addition of staffing issues, the COVID-19 pandemic, and the opioid crisis, has resulted in a perfect storm of pressure on these essential front-line medical workers, Clifford pointed out.

“They’re fatigued and exhausted,” he said.

“We know this profession is tough, and there are risks and impacts on our well-being and mental health, but when you add all the additional pressures over and above our regular work, it impacts our ability to respond.”

Miller agreed the COVID-19 pandemic and the overdose crisis have been physically and mentally exhausting for front-line employees, and has put pressure on staffing.

“We appreciate our employees’ incredible dedication during these challenging times,” she said.

“If a paramedic is overtired or not doing well, we have a process to take them off duty and go home to rest. We want to make sure they take care of themselves, so they can take care of patients.”

She pointed to BCEHS’ Critical Incident Stress program as a solution they are trying.

“It is a peer program that we encourage paramedics to take advantage of if they need support,” Miller said. “It is proving to be a very effective support for front line staff. The program has peer support available for paramedics and dispatch staff 24 hours a day, and also offers follow-up counselling sessions with a psychologist if needed.”

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