Living in a rural or a remote area is different. Those of us who have lived in remote and rural areas know this, but it can be very hard to explain to those who haven’t, and let’s face it, the vast majority of Canadians live in or very near urban centres.
In a huge country like Canada, with the variety of geography, weather and governments we have, each province and geographical area is unique and has its own challenges. But there are certain things that we tend to expect will be the same from one place to another. Emergency care is one of those things we often take for granted.
Honestly, thinking about who will come to help when I have an emergency has not been an important topic in my life. I certainly did not consider the quality of emergency services when I moved here, though I can see that to some people it could be very important. Especially with the advent of 911 across Canada, I had always assumed that if you have an accident or a medical emergency, or if you need the police urgently, you just have to call 911, and someone will come. I’ve never really though about how long it might take them to come, or how hard it might be for me to call them.
We know Telus is supposed to be connecting thousands of kilometres of highways in BC with cell service, but we certainly know that net is not complete yet, and not everyone has, wants, or can afford a cell phone. The phones themselves are not always reliable (they don’t like water, and their batteries die). And it is certainly a lot harder to find a pay phone than it was 30 years ago, when the best advice your parents could give you when you went out was “keep a dime in your sock in case you need to make a call.” I find it ironic that Telus tried to convince us to keep our house line with the reasoning that “it’s convenient if you need to call 911.”
Calling for help is not always that easy, but that is one of the things that make people in rural and remote areas different from those that are comfortable in cities – we have to look out for ourselves, and we help each other more.
I experienced this first hand when we went off the road last year. We knew the challenges in front of us, and we knew that 911 was not going to be able to help – until we found someone else that could take us to a phone. And of course, by then, our emergency was over.
That is only the first side of the problem. It takes long enough to get on-call paramedics mobilized. It takes long enough to get between our small communities on sometimes treacherous roads. Now what if the ambulance is sent the wrong way? If you tell a 911 dispatcher in Kamloops that you are on a road that is not marked on the online maps, are you sure it’s marked on the map they are using? If you know you are near a business, but it’s not marked on the maps, is that information going to get translated to the ambulance driver? How long might it take them to find you?
Just because we are more self reliant, does that mean that we don’t need – or deserve – better emergency coverage? And in a province that is pushing tourism as a driver of jobs and our economic success, don’t those tourists deserve the same sort of coverage they’d expect in any other province, or in the cities?
Les Fisher from the BC Ambulance Service said on CBC radio that ambulance attendants are very much like volunteers. But organizations looking for volunteers don’t advertise on job boards, do they? Does the fact that it costs more to provide the same level of coverage to rural areas mean that we should rely on volunteers?
What exactly was the problem in Angela Worsley’s case? She was a tourist, and didn’t know where she was; she was expecting a bigger town and an actual hospital; she was looking for signs she didn’t see, and noting landmarks that apparently weren’t recognized by the person she was talking to; there was bad cell service, and her calls dropped; and she was so close to the clinic, and couldn’t find it.
The things that went right in her case were that she did call 911, who called the nurse into the clinic; she knew she was in Valemount; she found someone that helped her find the clinic; and her son survived the emergency with no apparent ill effects, thankfully.
I can’t imagine that everything that went wrong in Worsley’s case was her fault. And I can’t believe there are things we as a community and a society can’t change. It is time to rethink how emergency services are provided in rural BC.
By: Korie Marshall