The union representing B.C. paramedics and emergency dispatchers says staffing shortages are at crisis levels and affecting ambulance service province-wide.
The Ambulance Paramedics and Emergency Dispatchers of B.C. say the province is dealing with an unprecedented level of vacant paramedic positions.
On at least one shift last week, the union says, between 25 and 40 paramedic units were out of service throughout the night shift across the Sea to Sky, Lower Mainland and Fraser Valley regions.
“The ambulances we do have in various communities, we’re having trouble staffing them right now, what we think due to some vacant positions and fatigue and burnout of paramedics manning ambulances. There’s a high rate of vacant shifts and not enough paramedics to fill them,” said union president Cameron Eby.
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“We need to look at the workload levels that paramedics and dispatchers are facing. Clearly people are being subjected to more and more and that’s leading to occupational stress injuries like PTSD. And people just sometimes need some time off.”
Eby said the employer is having to rely on overtime to fill shifts, or even paying to fly rural paramedics into urban areas to cover shortages.
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In a report issued last month, B.C. Auditor General Carol Bellringer warned that ambulances in urban areas were often missing response time targets.
Health Minister Adrian Dix said since the NDP has come to power, the province has added 119 paramedic positions, 111 of them full time.
“We thought and I thought there weren’t enough ambulance paramedics, and the effect has been positive on response times. That doesn’t mean its the end of the issue of course,” he said.
“All I can say is there’s no area resources on a per capita basis than to the ambulance service, and that’s precisely for the reasons that ambulance paramedics have been talking about for a long time, so it’s been in response to that.
Dix added that the province is currently in contract talks with the paramedics’ union.
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BC Emergency Health Services (BCEHS) acknowledges that it is facing staffing challenges, but disputes the union’s numbers. It says at its lowest staffing times on Saturday and Sunday, about 15 units were out of service.
BCEHS says it is working to hire more paramedics and to fill shifts with part time and casual staff.
“We know paramedics are responding to more calls than ever before, as the result of a growing, aging population in BC. And the overdose crisis is also taking its toll on our paramedics and dispatchers, and we thank them for their dedication,” said BCEHS in an emailed statement.
It said despite the challenges, wait times in most critical call areas such as Vancouver are “holding steady.”