August 9, 2014 9:43 pm

Skidegate band councillor dies after waiting more than an hour for an ambulance

WATCH ABOVE: Interview with Linda Lupini, executive vice president of BC Emergency Health Services

VANCOUVER – On Sunday a 48-year-old man died of cardiac arrest in Skidegate on Haida Gwaii. He was just minutes away from the hospital in Queen Charlotte City but there was no ambulance to take him there. His heart had stopped and he was not able to drive himself to the hospital.

Skidegate band councillor Godfrey Williams waited for an ambulance for almost an hour.

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The only paramedics on duty were in Sandspit, which is a ferry ride away.

The lack of ambulance service is a common complaint in the north.

Carol Kulesha, the Mayor of Queen Charlotte City, said sadly, this is nothing new.

She said for example, on Friday there was no ambulance available for their community from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m., and there are none available on Saturday or Sunday.

“It’s a long-term problem we’ve been trying to address for years,” she said.

“It’s a system problem. To be an ambulance attendant, beside the training, that BC Ambulance have been trying to supply, and they have tried to recruit, sometimes successfully, but you are on standby for two dollars an hour,” she added. “You don’t get paid a regular wage unless there’s a call out.”

“So people have to take jobs.”

Linda Lupini, executive vice president of BC Emergency Health Services, which covers the BC Ambulance Service, said what happened is a very tragic situation.

“All of us at BC Ambulance have extended our condolences to the community and family and so on, it’s very tragic and not the outcome we worked so hard to achieve,” she said.

Lupini added it is very challenging to provide ambulance services to rural and remote communities. “It’s challenging on many levels, from a staffing point of view, it’s difficult. We often have staff that have other important obligations, work obligations, and they’re volunteering to be on call for certain shifts,” she added. “They sometimes have conflicting, other priorities, and book off shifts, it’s challenging to do that. It’s also challenging from a physical point of view, an environmental point of view, in terms of getting people in and out of the communities.”

Kulesha said one of their ambulance attendants in the area had to take a job in a restaurant because it paid more.

Lupini said BC Ambulance is working hard to see if they can redesign the service in northern and rural communities.

“In an ideal world, if we had unlimited resources, we would have full-time paramedics everywhere,” said Lupini. “But there are many many remote communities in British Columbia and it’s really not sustainable to have full-time paramedics everywhere.”

She said they try to use people who are on call, but are also making some agreements and arrangements with other first responders, such as firefighters.

“We’re working really hard to look at these communities and see if we can do this more effectively,” added Lupini.

“I think in the longer term, the real solution to a lot of these problems is to tackle more than one problem. We know that there are doctor shortages, we know that there are other health care worker shortages, and the provincial government Ministry of Health has agreed to add 80 full-time paramedics over the next five years for rural and remote communities and we can enhance their skills so we can make sure they can do more than just wait for an emergency call.”

WATCH: Local doctors and the Mayor of Queen Charlotte City are demanding answers. Julia Foy reports.

© Shaw Media, 2014

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