VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – As the province struggles to balance two public health emergencies, the response times for an ambulance are growing as more and more people reach out for help.
On Friday night, the Ambulance Paramedics and Emergency Dispatchers of BC says there were 29 ambulances that were left unstaffed in Metro Vancouver. It adds wait times for an emergency call were up to an hour, up to 16 hours for a non-emergency call, and there were no ambulances operating on the North Shore — although the latter was later mitigated.
The group’s president, Troy Clifford, says this situation has escalated and he’s calling for help to bring in new recruits.
“We’ve had some challenges with our recruitment and retention,” Clifford said. “It’s obviously a complicated situation that hasn’t arisen overnight, but what’s highlighted is the BC Emergency Health Services (BCEHS), which is our organization responsible for running the ambulance service — they’re the senior leadership, as well as Provincial Health Services Authority (PHSA), which is the health authority that BCEHS falls under. What we’re saying is their failure to respond and be adaptive to the needs and sustainability of our recruitment, staffing and administration of filling vacancies has prolonged what’s already been a long-standing issue of staffing and workload. It’s really caused the situation to become critical recently from really, what we would say, is mismanagement of staffing and workload.”
When asked, Clifford wouldn’t directly blame the two agencies, but feels they should be held accountable.
The BCEHS gave the following statement about the current situation:
“There’s no doubt the overdose crisis and the COVID-19 pandemic have been physically and mentally exhausting for our front-line employees, and has at times put pressure on our staffing, and we appreciate our employees’ incredible dedication during these challenging times.
Friday night saw more than 120 overdose calls to BCEHS dispatch in a single 24-hour period. In the history of the overdose crisis, this has only happened four other times.
Additionally, responding in the context of the pandemic can also take extra time and can put paramedic crews out of service, while waiting to hand over their patients at hospitals, and disinfecting their ambulances.
BCEHS currently has some paramedic vacancies and is actively recruiting to fill these positions.
To help respond to patients during the pandemic, the Province and BCEHS have added 55 additional ground ambulances, and 5 additional air ambulances, plus additional staffing to support patient care throughout the province.”
.@APBC873 says a staffing shortage is to blame for long wait times. Up to an hour for urgent calls, up to 16 hrs. for non-emerg. Admit some are reducing their availability because of fatigue/increased workload as BC battles two public health emergencies. Details on @NEWS1130.
— Sonia Aslam (@SoniaSAslam) February 22, 2021
Clifford adds the stretched resources are hurting those on the frontlines.
“February has been our worst month for ambulance, paramedic and dispatcher shortages in the Metro Vancouver area since B.C. declared the health emergency of overdoses and since last year. The situation is very critical. We struggle with the pressure to maintain service but paramedics are very frustrated. They’re exhausted and when you see that on a night like Friday night, when you’re going from call to call to call and you don’t even really feel you’re being acknowledged that it is a crisis like it is, that’s hard on their mental health and well-being.”
He says recruiting is complicated and not just due to the pandemic. Clifford says if they start bringing in paramedics from other parts of the province, then there will be a shortage in those smaller, often rural, communities.
“The primary issue is we’ve failed to be ahead of the curve for hiring. We’re reacting as opposed to being proactive. For instance, in the Lower Mainland, we could be three months ahead because we hire quarterly in Vancouver. We should be hiring enough to be ahead of the curve so when you have attrition and the moving on to outlying areas, then you backfill. If we have 20 or 30 ambulances, on average, down a day, that requires another 60 to 80 paramedics to fill those spots.”
Clifford admits some paramedics, especially those on-call, are reducing how often and when they’re available because of fatigue and increased workload.
NEWS 1130 has also reached out to PHSA for comment.