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

(File - Sooke News Mirror)
Man exposes himself to woman, children on Sooke trail

Suspect believed to be between 55 and 65 years of age

(Pixabay photo)
Emergency repairs underway on Phillips Road in Sooke

Sewage may have entered DeMamiel Creek and Sooke River

Victoria police are seeking public assistance in identifying a suspect and witness of a Dec. 4 sexual assault in Esquimalt. (Black Press Media file photo)
Police seeking suspect, witness of sexual assault of Esquimalt teen

Teen sexually assaulted Dec. 4 after departing number 15 bus

Victoria police are looking for missing woman Dana Frazer, 54, who is driving a blue 2016 Nissan Frontier pickup truck. (Courtesy of Victoria Police Department)
UPDATED: High-risk, missing woman located by Victoria police

VicPD issued a missing alert for Dana Frazer on Jan. 15

Patrick MacMullan won $28,000 playing Toto. (Photo courtesy of BCLC)
Greater Victoria man wins $28,000 while watching football

Winning ticket purchased at Colwood convenience store

A woman wears a face mask and shield to curb the spread of COVID-19 while walking in North Vancouver, B.C., on Wednesday, January 6, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
536 COVID cases, 7 deaths reported as B.C. finds its first case of South African variant

Henry said 69,746 people have received their first dose of the COVID vaccine.

Harvest Meats is recalling a brand of Polish sausages, shown in a handout photo, due to undercooking that may make them unsafe to eat. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency says the recall affects customers in Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, Northwest Territories, Ontario and Saskatchewan. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Canadian Food Inspection Agency Mandatory Credit
Harvest Meats recalls sausages over undercooking

Customers are advised to throw away or return the product

(Black Press Media file photo)
From arts to environment, nominate your West Shore hero

Nominations for the Goldstream Gazette’s Local Hero awards are open to Jan. 15

The District reopened access to the Sooke Potholes on Friday. (Contributed - Ashley Ensor)
Sooke Potholes reopen after storm

The park was closed on Wednesday after down power lines

Nursing staff at West Coast General Hospital celebrate the announcement of a $6.25-million expansion of the emergency department that will start in March 2021. (File photo)
B.C. health ministry commits $6.25M to hospital expansion in Port Alberni

Plans for larger emergency department have been on hold since 2015

Seasonal influenza vaccine is administered starting each fall in B.C. and around the world. (Langley Advance Times)
After 30,000 tests, influenza nowhere to be found in B.C.

COVID-19 precautions have eliminated seasonal infection

Martin Luther King Jr. addresses the crowd during the march on Washington, D.C., in August of 1963. Courtesy photo
Government announces creation of B.C.’s first anti-racism act on Black Shirt Day

B.C. Ministers say education “a powerful tool” in the fight for equity and equality

Jobs Minister Ravi Kahlon shared a handwritten note his son received on Jan. 13, 2021. (Ravi Kahlon/Twitter)
Proud dad moment: B.C. minister’s son, 10, receives handwritten note for act of kindness

North Delta MLA took to Twitter to share a letter his son received from a new kid at school

Black Press media file
Port McNeill driver tells police he thought the pandemic meant no breathalyzers

Suspect facing criminal charges after breathalyzer readings in excess of 3.5 times the legal limit

Most Read