Adding a third ambulance hasn’t been a big benefit to Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows, according to the paramedics union.
“The ambulances that were put into the Tri-Cities and Maple Ridge aren’t spending a lot of time there,” said Bronwyn Barter, president of the Ambulance Paramedics of B.C. – CUPE 873.
“They are being sucked into the Downtown Eastside vortex.”
Ambulance service was an ongoing issue in Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows during 2016.
Matt Kelso, a local cancer patient, championed the cause of increasing service, and began a petition in 2015 that he said contained more than 8,000 names.
In February 2016, the province announced it was adding eight new ambulances and hiring 34 paramedics for Lower Mainland cities.
But not Maple Ridge, at the time.
The allocation of resources then meant Langley Township and Langley City would be served by seven ambulances for a population of 130,000, while Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows, with 95,000, had just two ambulances.
In September, Premier Christy Clark, at Ridge Meadows Hospital, announced that Maple Ridge would be getting a third ambulance, and another was going to Coquitlam.
Barter said the new ambulance in Maple Ridge is a Juliet, meaning part-time, as opposed to an alpha car, which is staffed and on duty 24 hours a day.
Barter said the new additions in Maple Ridge and Coquitlam are not staffed for the posting and are pulled into Vancouver regularly.
B.C. had the highest number of overdose-related 911 calls ever recorded between Nov. 17 and 23, when paramedics responded to 494 suspected overdose/poisoning events in Greater Vancouver, of which 271 occurred in the Downtown Eastside and 81 in Surrey.
Barter said the government has not sufficiently addressed the serious shortage of ambulances.
“Until the employer adds enough resources … they’ll always be pulled away.”
A government report published in 2016 said the Metro region needed an additional 22 ambulances.
Maple Ridge-Mission MLA Marc Dalton said the government made strides in addressing the shortfall in the past year.
“There has been very significant additions to ambulance care in the Lower Mainland in 2016,” he said.
He noted each of the 10 new ambulances in the Lower Mainland costs about $1 million to staff and operate.
One ambulance requires nine paramedics to keep it staffed 24/7.
Dalton said while each municipality has its designated ambulances and paramedics, the service is regional, and they are dispatched wherever they are needed.
People should not be unduly concerned that a Maple Ridge ambulance is called to another city, he added.
“It [the new ambulance] is meant to be in this area, but we will have ambulances from Abbotsford and Mission that will be covering in Maple Ridge, too,” he said.
In November, the provincial government allocated an additional $5 million to pay for more paramedic and dispatcher support during the opioid overdose crisis gripping the province.