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

Pioneer Arena is closing for the season. Photo: John Boivin
Castlegar’s Pioneer Arena and Nelson Civic Centre closing for season

RDCK is closing the ice at two of its arenas due to financial concerns related to COVID-19

Interior Health update. File photo.
86 new COVID-19 cases, two more deaths in Interior Health

The new deaths are from Heritage Square, a long-term care facility in Vernon

The Purcell Wilderness Conservancy is the largest protected area in southeastern B.C. Photo: B.C. Parks
Province adds land to Valhalla and Purcell parks

Both additions enhance the parks’ ecological values, the province says

RCMP responded to a report early Friday morning of a suspect firing a gun at a Salmo home. Photo: Black Press
RCMP arrest woman who fired shots at Salmo home

The woman allegedly discharged a firearm early Friday morning

Nelson is holding a municipal by-election to replace former councillor Brittny Anderson, who resigned in December. Photo: Bill Metcalfe
Nelson by-election nomination deadlines set

Candidacies must be registered between Feb. 9 and Feb. 19

Keith the curious kitten is seen on Nov. 4, 2020 at the Chilliwack SPCA. Friday, Jan. 22, 2021 is Answer Your Cat’s Questions Day. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress file)
Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of Jan. 17 to 23

Answer Your Cat’s Questions Day, Pie Day and International Sweatpants Day are all coming up this week

JaHyung Lee, “Canada’s oldest senior” at 110 years old, received his first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine on Thursday, Jan. 14, 2021. He lives at Amenida Seniors Community in Newton. (Submitted photo: Amenida Seniors Community)
Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

A unique-looking deer has been visiting a Nanoose Bay property with its mother. (Frieda Van der Ree photo)
A deer with 3 ears? Unique animal routinely visits B.C. property

Experts say interesting look may be result of an injury rather than an odd birth defect

Standardized foundation skills assessment tests in B.C. schools will be going ahead later than usual, from Feb. 16 to March 12 for students in Grades 4 and 7. (Black Press Media file photo)
B.C. teachers say COVID-affected school year perfect time to end standardized tests

Foundational skills testing of Grade 4 and 7 students planned for February ad March

Sooke’s Jim Bottomley is among a handful of futurists based in Canada. “I want to help people understand the future of humanity.” (Aaron Guillen - Sooke News Mirror)
No crystal ball: B.C. man reveals how he makes his living predicting the future

63-year-old has worked analytical magic for politicians, car brands, and cosmetic companies

Terry David Mulligan. (Submitted photo)
Podcast: Interview with longtime actor/broadcaster and B.C. resident Terry David Mulligan

Podcast: Talk includes TDM’s RCMP career, radio, TV, wine, Janis Joplin and much more

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

COVID-19 precautions have eliminated seasonal infection

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau listens to a question during a news conference outside Rideau cottage in Ottawa, Friday, January 8, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Trudeau says Canada’s COVID vaccine plan on track despite Pfizer cutting back deliveries

Canadian officials say country will still likely receive four million doses by the end of March

Most Read