Still waiting for new ambulances in Maple Ridge

B.C. paramedics growing frustrated with delay.

Maple Ridge is still waiting for the ambulance.

The union representing paramedics in B.C. is accusing the province of dragging its feet in providing more ambulance service in Maple Ridge.

On Sept. 15, Premier Christy Clark was at Ridge Meadows Hospital to announce the Maple Ridge ambulance station would get a third ambulance, and another will be stationed in Coquitlam.

Bronwyn Barter, president of the Ambulance Paramedics of B.C., CUPE 873, said it has been six weeks, and the union still has not been told whether the vehicles will be alpha cars – those which are always on duty.

One ambulance requires nine paramedics to keep it staffed 24/7.

She said the government could have had the new vans on the road immediately using existing casual, part-time staff.

Last Wednesday, a Tweet from the Paramedics of B.C., which Barter said was written by a regional vice-president, got a response from the health minister.

“Whatever happened to the two additional ambulances announced by the Liberal government a month ago for the Tri-Cities and Maple Ridge? Crickets … Nothing,” read the Tweet.

Health Minister Terry Lake responded with a Tweet of his own: “Recruitment underway but will get on it today.”

The new ambulances topped up an increase in resources from earlier in 2016. In February, the province announced it was adding eight new ambulances and hiring 34 paramedics in the Lower Mainland – but not in Maple Ridge, at the time.

Barter said Lower Mainland paramedics are frustrated by the delay.

“They’re outraged. They’re being worked non-stop on their shifts, they don’t get breaks, and they show up late for calls and people are upset.”

She said the epidemic of opioid overdoses has exacerbated the problem, adding more calls “on top of a maxed-out system.”

Barter said not all of the new vehicles added earlier this year are alpha cars, so the government is not making the kind of investment needed to fix the system.

“It’s a drop in the bucket, compared to all of the resources we need,” she said.

The government’s own report said the B.C. Ambulance Service requires 27 additional alpha cars in Vancouver and Victoria to meet demand.

“It’s great that you have two new ambulances, but you’ll never see them if they’re short in other cities – until they get all of those resources in place, you won’t see them.

“Those ambulances aren’t going to stay in Maple Ridge and Coquitlam.”

Maple Ridge-Mission MLA Marc Dalton said the two new ambulances are stocked and ready to be deployed for Maple Ridge and the Tri-Cities area.

They will be staffed as alpha cars and the hiring process is currently underway, he added.

The ambulances will be staffed and responding to calls in November, Dalton said.

“That was my understanding from the beginning. It wasn’t going to happen the next day.”

He said the Liberal government has made a significant increase in both paramedics and ambulances this year, that will make a difference.

The paramedics union, Dalton added, has another agenda in its complaints about the system.

“You need to recognize the source – they are always going to advocate for more jobs.”

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