Photo submitted by Ambulance Paramedics of BC

Photo submitted by Ambulance Paramedics of BC

Paramedics issue ‘triple threat’ warning for holidays

‘Shift vacancy is the highest it has ever been,’ says Surrey paramedic Shane Sander

Ambulance paramedics are warning the public of a “triple threat” during the Christmas holiday seasons as COVID-19 protocols are expected to compound mental health and addiction emergencies during a time of year that can be especially lonely for some.

These two health crises, coupled with “critically low” low paramedic and dispatcher staffing levels – when 75 per cent of the province does not have full-time ambulance service – will put B.C. to the test this year, according to an Ambulance Paramedics of B.C. press release issued Monday.

“Shift vacancy is the highest it has ever been,” says Surrey paramedic Shane Sander, a union spokesman. “When we come to work, the first question we ask one another is: ‘How many ambulances will stay parked today due to staffing shortages?’ The holidays will certainly test ambulance resources and resilience.”

But Shannon Miller, spokeswoman for BC Emergency Health Services, says it’s “incorrect” to suggest that 75 per cent of the province is without full-time coverage. “Paramedics and our 24-hour-a-day, 7-day-a-week dispatch/call centres cover the entire province, 100-per-cent of the time. We are a provincial service with paramedics responding and treating patients wherever they are located,” she told the Now-Leader.

Miller also said Surrey “recently increased ambulance and paramedic resources, including 10 more ambulances operating out of the former Treo site.”

READ ALSO: COVID-19 infection rate among B.C. paramedics almost zero

Troy Clifford, president of Ambulance Paramedics of BC, says physical, emotional and psychological exhaustion “have set in” among ambulance paramedics and dispatchers.

“We are coming onto one year of responding to the global pandemic and almost five years since the province declared an overdose emergency,” Clifford said. “These double health crises are already threatening our frontline emergency medical services, and the triple threat is that our profession is experiencing recruitment issues and an increase in stress leave, which has created a critical shortage of staff. We are worried about members of the public feeling greater isolation over the holidays or using drugs alone and not having access to immediate medical care and transport to hospital.”

READ ALSO SALUTE: B.C. paramedics are stepping up in COVID-19 battle

Five people per day – 162 all told – died of overdoses in October, the BC Coroners Service revealed last week.

Meantime, Clifford said in Monday’s press release that ambulance crew burnout, retention and recruitment are at a “breaking point.

“What British Columbians may not know is that 75 per cent of the province relies on an on-call service model, meaning there’s no full-time ambulance service. This model makes retention and recruitment of paramedics a challenge because they don’t get meaningful compensation – only $2 per hour during an on-call shift with the hourly wage increasing only if they tend to an emergency or transfer a patient between health facilities.”

According to the press release, in October and November some communities had more than 50 vacant paramedic shifts, resulting in no immediate ambulance response on some days.

Paramedic Kristi Schmitz, who works in Haida Gwaii, said she was on shift every day from September 3 to October 16 to make sure her community had coverage. “This is not sustainable.”



tom.zytaruk@surreynowleader.com

Like us on Facebook and follow Tom on Twitter

BC HealthCoronavirusSurrey

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

One staff member tested positive for COVID-19 at Maple Ridge Seniors Village. (Google)
Outbreak declared over at Maple Ridge Senior’s Village

This is the second COVID-19 outbreak for the long-term-care facility

The slide happened in November of 2018. (Special to The News)
Slippery slope has Albion community centre neighbours upset

City’s excavations caused landslide on neighbouring property

Cathy Barrington plays the drums and sings with various jazz and blues bands. But she is known in the school district as the singing secretary. (Special to The News)
Singing secretary at Maple Ridge elementary school leaves on a high note

Cathy Barrington, whose rendition of At Last went viral online, has retired

Lance Andre is the GM of the Maple Ridge Burrards WLA team. (The News files)
Maple Ridge Burrards plan to ‘go local’ in upcoming draft

WLA announces draft will be held online Feb. 11

Syringe is prepared with one of B.C.’s first vials of Pfizer vaccine to prevent COVID-19, Victoria, Dec. 22, 2020. (B.C. government)
B.C.’s COVID-19 caseload stays steady with 465 more Tuesday

No new outbreaks in health care facilities, 12 more deaths

New Westminster TV production designer, Rick Whitfield, has designed an office in a box for British Columbians in need of a private workspace. (BC Box Office photo)
PHOTOS: B.C. man designs ‘box office’ solution for those working from home

‘A professionally designed workspace on your property, away from the distractions of home’

Chilliwack ER doctor Marc Greidanus is featured in a video, published Jan. 18, 2021, where he demonstrates and describes effectiveness of various styles of masks. (Youtube)
VIDEO: Emergency room doctor runs through pros and cons of various masks

‘We’ve been asked to wear a mask and it’s not that hard,’ Greidanus says.

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

(Pixabay photo)
VIDEO: Tip to Metro Vancouver transit police helps woman 4,000 km away in Ohio

Sgt. Clint Hampton says transit police were alerted to a YouTube video of the woman in mental distress

A woman types on her laptop in Miami in a Monday, Dec. 12, 2016, photo illustration. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Wilfredo Lee
British Columbia government lax on cybersecurity practices, auditor reports

The audit did not highlight a specific threat, but it found breaches in cybersecurity are increasing globally

A child joins the Uke ‘n Play kickoff event at the Chilliwack Library on Oct. 1, 2016. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress file)
Events return, in virtual form, at Fraser Valley Regional Library

People can take part in ukulele jam, bullet journaling, reading groups and more

Cranbrook Food Bank coordinator Deanna Kemperman, Potluck Cafe Society executive director Naved Noorani and Sunshine Coast Community Services Society executive director Catherine Leach join B.C.’s new Municipal Affairs Minister Josie Osborne on a video call about B.C. gaming grants, Jan. 19, 2021. (B.C. government)
B.C. gaming grants reorganized for COVID-19 priorities

Minister highlights community kitchens, food banks

(Pixabay photo)
‘Cocaine bananas’ arrive at Kelowna grocery stores after mix up from Colombia: RCMP

Kelowna RCMP recently concluded an international drug investigation after finding cocaine in local grocers’ banana shipments in 2019

Most Read