By Andrea Arnold
BC’s Paramedic Union has started a petition demanding that the BC government fix the current issues facing the ambulance service.
Just this past weekend in Valemount, an individual who does not want to be identified was told they would have to find their own method of transportation to McBride following a bad reaction to medication as there was no ambulance available. The crew had not been able to staff an ambulance that shift. The patient tried to make the trip to McBride but it was mid-snowstorm and they decided it was unsafe and turned around. The situation proved to not be life-threatening this time, but left the patient weaker than before. A family member of the individual wants to raise the alarm about paramedic staffing issues and ambulances not being available for valley residents.
In October the Province announced that Valemount’s ambulance station would be transitioning to a 24-7 Alpha model, providing the service of two paramedics 24 hours a day and an additional two paramedics (second car) on call when needed. But the change means hiring an additional five people to the existing 4-person team, a process that takes time.
The Robson Valley is not alone in this crisis. Across the province, patients are facing unreasonable wait times due to short staffed ambulance stations. In mid-October a 70-year old Crescent Beach (Surrey) woman slipped and fell, breaking her leg. It took more than four hours for the paramedics to arrive.
The union that represents the paramedics warned during contract talks that started in October, that if a critical staff shortage and burnout among staff are not addressed immediately, the service may not survive. The union is pushing for addressing recruitment and attracting trained paramedics.
As part of a new media and public awareness campaign, BC ambulance paramedics and dispatchers have started the petition, and as of the morning of Nov 7th, 12,869 people had signed the petition in support of ambulance services.
“We are ‘Sounding The Alarm’ in the midst of an unprecedented staffing crisis, ambulances are
sitting empty across the province, and we are seeing the effects of understaffing and poor wages now more than ever,” said BC Ambulance Paramedics and Dispatchers President Troy Clifford. “We are bringing real solutions to the bargaining table and what we believe can fix the ambulance service and set us on a path forward where we can finally recruit and retain staff.”
On the petition website, Clifford provides more detailed information as to why the current BC paramedic model needs to change.
“When we can’t do our best, that’s a morale and psychological injury,” said Clifford. “Because of system failure, bureaucracy, or operational stressors, not because we can’t treat the patient.”
Clifford used the example of paramedics in the middle of caring for a patient, knowing that there are other serious calls awaiting attention, but being unable to attend until they have completed the call they are on.
“Somebody’s loved one is waiting for an ambulance,” he said..
Paramedics are paid on average at least 30 per cent less than other First Responders like police and firefighters. Most rural and remote paramedics are paid $2 an hour to carry a pager when they are on call. According to the union, this payment system has made it hard to recruit and retain employees and resulted in ambulances sitting empty across the province, while the demand for service keeps increasing.
The union provided a statement citing that over 30 per cent of staff are either off work getting treatment for PTSD or are trying to get help while still working. Workers facing the highest workload in Canada combined with the staffing crisis, resulting in the workforce hitting their breaking point.
“We need to support our Paramedics and Dispatchers as they work in these unprecedented
times and help them get healthy so they can transition back to work,” said Clifford.
BC Paramedics are asking the residents of BC to join them in sounding the alarm. To sign the petition, go to https://soundingthealarm.ca/ Share your support on instagram using #SoundingTheAlarm