A B.C. paramedic is leading a growing call for the head of BC Emergency Health Services (BCEHS) to resign over the agency’s response to last week’s unprecedented heat wave, which led to hundreds of deaths in the province.
The paramedic, who spoke to Global News on the condition of anonymity to protect her job, says warnings from her and other BC Ambulance Service frontline staff that the record-breaking temperatures could lead to a massive surge in emergency calls were ignored by senior management.
That’s why she was outraged when she watched BCEHS COO Darlene Mackinnon tell Global News on Thursday that her agency had done “a really good job in the response.”
“My jaw hit the floor,” the paramedic said. “I felt sick. I felt angry.”
The paramedic quickly started an online petition demanding that Health Minister Adrian Dix fire Mackinnon from her position. Over 9,000 people have signed the petition, which has a goal of 10,000 signatures.
The paramedic, who has worked for years in the Lower Mainland, says her feelings about the need for change at the top of BCEHS are shared by many of her colleagues.
“I have never seen paramedics and dispatchers as angry as they are right now,” she said. “Everyone is absolutely livid and disgusted with the response.”
The heat wave began to strike coastal B.C. last Friday before making its way inland, leading to record-breaking temperatures in excess of 40 degrees Celsius in Metro Vancouver and other parts of the province.
The chief coroner’s office has estimated over 700 deaths between June 25 and July 1 have been linked to the scorching heat.
Several reports emerged during the heat wave of British Columbians waiting hours for an ambulance or even to talk to a dispatcher, while some emergency responders never arrived to meet some requests for help.
Yet the BCEHS didn’t activate its 24-hour, seven-day-a-week emergency coordination centre until Tuesday, when temperatures had begun to slide back down from their weekend peak.
That same day, an internal staff memo finally gave BCEHS paramedics permission to wear T-shirts instead of their thicker uniforms, and to carry water bottles with them while working.
Mackinnon acknowledged to Global News on Thursday those needs could have been met sooner. She also apologized to families who waited hours for emergency care and to those who lost loved ones due to the heat.
Yet she also sang the agency’s praises, saying her staff were dealing with an “unprecedented crisis” and had responded as best they could.
“It’s been incredibly hard, but we’re incredibly proud of our staff and I think that we’ve done a very good job in the response,” she said.
The paramedic’s petition called Mackinnon’s “insulting and delusional” interview with Global News “the last straw.”
She told Global News that staff had told senior management a week before the heat took over in B.C. that there could be a deluge in calls, pointing to warnings from meteorologists.
“They ignored us,” she said. “They did nothing.”
BCEHS has also faced criticism from the B.C. Professional Firefighters Association, the province’s firefighters union, over the heat wave response.
The union’s president Gord Ditchburn told Global News on Friday that residents suffering from overheating were showing up at fire halls for help after not getting a response from BC Ambulance — which he called proof that BCEHS were unprepared.
Mackinnon has acknowledged a staff shortage at BCEHS. On Friday, about 400 job openings were posted for paramedic teams across the province.
The paramedic says that doesn’t explain what she calls a lack of leadership during the heat wave, saying many of the deaths in the province were avoidable.
“These executives need to stand up, they need to take accountability, acknowledge their part in this mass-casualty incident, they need to apologize immediately and they need to resign,” she said.
If Mackinnon and others don’t step down willingly, she adds, “Then the Minister of Health needs to take the appropriate action and terminate them for gross incompetence.”