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B.C. paramedic staffing shortage reaches crisis level: union

Last Updated Mar 4, 2021 at 12:44 am PDT

FILE - A B.C. Ambulance Service paramedic wearing a face shield, an N95 mask and gloves communicates with a colleague moving a patient from an ambulance to the emergency department at Royal Columbian Hospital, in New Westminster, B.C., on April 12, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

BC paramedics are dealing with a staffing shortage that's getting worse by the week

President of Ambulance Paramedics and Emergency Dispatchers of BC says patients and paramedics are at risk

A recent statement from BC EHS says there are 'no major recruitment issues'

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) — Long wait times and staffing shortages are reaching a breaking point for first responders in the Lower Mainland.

President of Ambulance Paramedics and Emergency Dispatchers of BC Troy Clifford says there were 32 ambulances out of service Sunday night. That also meant there were only three primary care units to respond for all of Metro Vancouver.

“The paramedics are fatigued, tired, angry, frustrated. It was a horrible night as they are describing,” he says.

Wait times have also increased, hitting up to two hours that same night. Clifford says it’s “absolutely unheard of” in his 33 years as a paramedic.

He also stresses that extra-long response times can mean life or death for patients.

“I could not imagine how I would feel if it was one of my loved ones, or relatives or family members… who had an adverse outcome, or even worst-case scenario death, because of the delay. I couldn’t imagine being a paramedic that respond to that call,” he says.

“That’s really what this is about for us… what’s right for the patient and the public and the paramedics. Because you’ve got to have two healthy paramedics and a dispatcher to make sure that we can look after our patients, and if they’re not, then the system doesn’t work.”

Clifford says paramedics are completely burnt out, and their mental health is suffering having to cover the holes that should be filled by more staff members.

“More paramedics are booking off because of deep mental health, compassion fatigue… because somebody has to pick up those responses when we’re that short of ambulances,” he explains. “When we’re that short of ambulances, we don’t have any capacity for spikes or significant increases in call volume.”

Because there is no room for flexibility, Clifford says paramedics are arriving at the start of their shift and going from call to call.

“We’ve had challenges recruiting into our profession,” he says. “We have solutions for this, but we just can’t seem to get the BCEHS (BC Emergency Health Services) and PHSA (Provincial Health Services Authority) to first of all acknowledge the problem.”

RELATED: Paramedic shortage in B.C. leading to longer wait times

A recent statement from BCEHS says there are “no major recruitment issues,” but Clifford says the service is failing them — and their patients — by refusing to acknowledge the shortage.

“I just don’t understand why, I really don’t, and I can’t get the answers… Last week, I heard from a lot of paramedics and dispatchers that they were really frustrated with the fact that the organization wasn’t acknowledging them. And for morale, that’s a really tough thing,” he says.

BCEHS is now clarifying out of services ambulances in the last two weeks.

“In Vancouver during an average weekend day shift we have about 71 ambulances operating. This past Saturday we had 8 ambulances out of service during the day shift, (About 11 per cent),” a statement reads.

BCEHS says, out of the 181 calls in both Fraser Health and Vancouver Coastal Health over the last weekend only two calls had response times of more than an hour.

The statement adds, between 7 and 17 ambulances were out of service last weekend, depending on the shift and time of day.