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

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, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
57 new cases of COVID-19 in Interior Health region

Thirty people in the region are in hospital, 16 of whom are in intensive care

Grizzly bear. (File)
Malakwa man bitten by grizzly bear on dog walk

The man and dogs were not seriously injured

The downtown kiosks were recently painted black. Tourism Revelstoke said decals still need to be added and information inside the kiosks will also be updated. The city said the black paint is temporary as the area is slotted to be completely revamped in the coming years. (Liam Harrap - Revelstoke Review)
Newly painted black Revelstoke kiosks temporary fix; city

The recent colour changed caused an uproar on Facebook

A hummingbird gives its wings a rare rest while feeding in a North Okanagan garden. (Karen Siemens/North Okanagan Naturalists Club)
Hummingbirds back for another Okanagan season

North America’s littlest birds return, and they’re hungry

Jose Marchand prepares Pfizer COVID-19 vaccination doses at a mobile clinic for members of First Nations and their partners, in Montreal, Friday, April 30, 2021. The National Advisory Committee on Immunization is coming under fire after contradicting the advice Canadians have been receiving for weeks to take the first vaccine against COVID-19 that they’re offered. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Trudeau says he is glad he got AstraZeneca, vaccines are only way out of pandemic

‘The most important thing is to get vaccinated with the first vaccine offered to you’

B.C.’s provincial health officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Dip in COVID-19 cases with 572 newly announced in B.C.

No new deaths have been reported but hospitalized patients are up to 481, with 161 being treated in intensive care

(Kingfisher Boats photo)
In the market for a boat in the North Okanagan? Be prepared to wait

Vernon’s Kingfisher Boats is out of 2021 models, with many 2022 models already pre-sold

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good
Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Solar panels on a parking garage at the University of B.C. will be used to separate water into oxygen and hydrogen, the latter captured to supply a vehicle filling station. (UBC video)
UBC parkade project to use solar energy for hydrogen vehicles

Demonstration project gets $5.6M in low-carbon fuel credits

FILE – A student arrives at school as teachers dressed in red participate in a solidarity march to raise awareness about cases of COVID-19 at Ecole Woodward Hill Elementary School, in Surrey, B.C., on Tuesday, February 23, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. ‘should be able to’ offer 1st dose of COVID vaccine to kids 12+ by end of June: Henry

Health Canada authorized the vaccine for younger teens this morning

A woman in the Harrison Mills area was attacked by a cougar on Tuesday, May 4. B.C. Conservation Officers killed two male cougars in the area; the attack was determined to be predatory in nature. (File photo)
2 cougars killed following attack on woman in Agassiz area

Attack victim remains in hospital in stable condition

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, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. CDC updates info, acknowledging small respiratory droplets can spread COVID-19

Large droplets, not aerosols had been fixture of public health messaging for many months

Most Read