Fatigue, burnout, assaults, verbal abuse: they’re all part of a crisis one Lower Mainland paramedic says he and his colleagues are facing amid twin public health emergencies in British Columbia.
The paramedic, who Global News is calling “Johnny” as he is not authorized to speak publicly, said the profession has been at breaking point for years, with conditions exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic and the opioid crisis.
“We’ve always had a shortage of paramedics. It’s always really hard to maintain them because the job is tough,” Johnny said.
“It’s exhausting. People are getting injured, people are subjected to verbal, physical abuse from patients and family of the patients and bystanders. You take on a lot of emotion for other people.”
The union representing B.C. paramedics claims 32 Metro Vancouver ambulances were out of service last Sunday night, while B.C. Emergency Health Services says it was actually 17.
Johnny says those numbers are being driven by injury, exhaustion and stress.
“People don’t realize how much we see in a day,” he said. “I’ve been spat at, I’ve been punched at, I’ve been kicked, I’ve been tackled, other coworkers have had knives pulled on them.
“I’m fairly certain 100 per cent of us have thought about quitting or going another direction within the health service. There’s tons of paramedics who I’ve been talking to personally who are all looking at outs.”
Adding to the pressure, Johnny says, are nuisance calls, ranging from people who have swallowed a toenail to things like minor cuts.
B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix responded Thursday, saying he was meeting soon with the union president “to ensure we’re addressing quality of life issues among ambulance paramedics.”
“It has been an incredibly challenging time for paramedics and for all first responders that were both of the public health emergencies that we’re dealing with, and I know it takes a toll on us physically, but also mentally and emotionally as well,” Dix said.
BC Emergency Health Services said in a statement that it has a process in place to take paramedics who are “overtired or not doing well” off duty to ensure “they take care of themselves so they can take care of patients.”
It also has a Critical Incident Stress peer program and offers counselling access to a psychologist or needed, it said.
The agency said it had also added 150 positions throughout B.C. in the last year.
But more action needs to come sooner than later, according to Johnny, adding that public education about paramedic services is needed along with more bodies on the ground.
“The public doesn’t know what we do, what we see, how to call 911 and what to use us for. They still think we’re ambulance drivers,” he said.
“It’s dire. This is going to be ongoing for however long it’s going to take for the government and the union to fix it. Paramedics are tired, they’re exhausted, they are beat up, injuries, there’s mental health.”