An advanced life support unit is no longer serving the Vernon area, having been moved to Salmon Arm.
The unit provided a higher level of care for Vernon and surrounding communities, including Enderby, Armstrong, Lumby and the Westside Road area. The paramedics that man the unit can provide specialized care for patients suffering shortness of breath, cardiac issues, airway problems and other serious conditions.
In April 2020, the B.C. government introduced the Rural, Remote, First Nations and Indigenous COVID-19 Response Framework (RRIF) to ensure people in rural and remote communities could better access critical health care services. As part of this, BCEHS introduced regular single-responder advanced care paramedic (ACP) units to be based outside of major metro and urban centres for the first time. This was done to support the COVID-19 response and the potential for surges in communities across the province.
A day shift rural ACP unit was placed in Vernon to support a COVID-19 cohort site at Vernon Jubilee Hospital, BC Emergency Health Services (BCEHS) said in an email. This was part of a temporary contract that introduced 55 additional ground ambulances and five air ambulances to communities across the province.
Troy Clifford, provincial president of the Ambulance Paramedics and Emergency Dispatchers of BC, says the move of the advanced life support unit from Vernon to Salmon Arm took place in September, which is also when the temporary resources were made permanent.
BCEHS says the move was not done out of staffing challenges, as Vernon doesn’t face any. Vernon has staffing for two 24/7 Alpha ambulances and two day ambulances, and a hiring fair was held in Vernon last October to recruit on-call (casual) positions in Vernon and throughout the area.
Vernon’s advanced care paramedic unit was moved to Salmon Arm because “as an urban centre, Vernon, upon further review did not meet the requirements under the RRIF funding for a resource,” said Cindy Leong, BCEHS communications officer.
“However, the corridor attached to Salmon Arm and surrounding area did fit the criteria, especially because in many cases there are some longer transport times to hospital.”
An ACP is an additional level of support used when needed, and BCEHS says the loss of Vernon’s ACP “generally” will not affect response times.
Clifford says while Salmon Arm warrants the addition of an advanced life support unit, so too does Vernon, and Vernon’s unit should not have been removed.
“That advanced life support unit had a large geographic area that they responded to from Vernon. And if you talk to the medical community, it’s been well utilized,” Clifford said. “It came down to funding and they decided the priority was Salmon Arm over Vernon, which we maintain should not be the case, both Salmon Arm and Vernon absolutely warrant an advanced life support unit.”
The Vernon unit was utilized more than most other ACP units in the province, according to Clifford.
“It’s an absolutely great system and it works, it’s just unfortunate. Our position is that they need to reinstate it there, Vernon deserves it, our citizens and our patients, because without it, it has a very real potential effect of patient outcomes,” he said.
Leong says Vernon will be considered again in future reviews of resources.