Amid a string of reported incidents of slow ambulance service in B.C., Global News has learned of yet more major — and potentially dangerous — delays last week.
E-COMM, the 911 call centre, says its goal is to have operators answer the phone in five seconds on less.
Global News has learned that on May 29 that process was taking up to three minutes.
Part of the reason for that is that 911 operators do not dispatch ambulances themselves, but must instead call the paramedics’ dispatch.
Multiple sources tell Global News that last Saturday, it sometimes took in excess of 10 minutes for the dispatcher to answer the call from the E-COMM operator.
During that time, the 911 call taker is not allowed to hang up, meaning they are unable to move on to the next emergency call.
Another recent example of the consequences of those delays occurred in Vancouver’s West End, where a senior in distress was left waiting hours for transport.
It happened on May 28, when the woman’s friend called for a welfare check after they hadn’t heard from her in some time.
Police and firefighters responded. When they accessed the woman’s apartment, they discovered she’d been on the couch in her own waste for several days.
Crews called for an ambulance, but when one did not arrive after five hours a Safe Ride shuttle — meant to transport people with drug and alcohol issues — was used to take her to hospital.
On Tuesday, a Surrey woman was left waiting two hours for an ambulance that never arrived, after a vehicle collision serious enough that firefighters manually held her head straight out of concern of a spinal injury.
The woman’s family eventually transported her themselves in a private vehicle.
“When we’re tied up on an incident waiting for paramedic response it leaves us unavailable for fire emergencies, other major medical incidents,” Lee Lax with IAFF Local 18, the union representing Vancouver firefighters, said.
“It’s failing them now and it needs to improve immediately.”
On Thursday, B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix said the B.C. Ambulance Service has dealt recently with near-record levels of calls, but acknowledged he was concerned about the recent incidents.
Overall wait times for the service have decreased in recent years, he added.
“I absolutely recognize that if you’re waiting too long for an ambulance whether they’ve gone down overall is not a great concern to you,” he said.
“I know that BC Emergency Health Services is obviously looking at it as well,” he said.
BC Liberal health critic Renee Merrifield called the recent cases “unacceptable,” and urged speedy action to prevent similar incidents.
“The longer people wait in those critical first hours the worse outcomes become,” she said, calling for more paramedics and more cross-care training for first responders such as firefighters to provide emergency care.
“I think we need to tackle this from all angles and do it very quickly.”