The union representing paramedics in B.C. is speaking out about resource shortages after one crew discovered it had the only staffed ambulance in Vancouver at one point this week.
According to the Ambulance Paramedics of British Columbia, or CUPE Local 873, a single ambulance was available within the confines of the city at 6:30 a.m. on Feb. 2.
“Wednesday was a little extreme of a day. We understand the day shift started with significant shortages, primarily in the Metro Vancouver area,” said union president Troy Clifford in an interview.
“It really amplifies what we’ve been talking about with some of the real challenges we’ve had with shortages of paramedics to work our units not only in the Lower Mainland, but across the province.”
Paramedics in B.C. regularly cross between jurisdictions to take calls, and within a “short period of time,” there were five or six ambulances available in Vancouver city limits, he said.
Nevertheless, he called that 6:30 a.m. snapshot of time on Wednesday “disturbing.”
“As you know, we’ve been sounding the alarm on this for a while,” Clifford said. “We’re doing a lot of work jointly with the new leadership and government, but we’re still seeing these significant shortages.”
There should be between 20 and 30 ambulances serving Vancouver in a shift, he added.
According to B.C. Emergency Health Services (BCEHS), which oversees the B.C. Ambulance Service and B.C. Patient Transfer Services, claims that only one ambulance was available for Vancouver last Wednesday morning are “not true.”
In a written statement, it told Global News there were roughly 40 ambulances serving the Vancouver Coastal and Fraser Valley areas at 6:30 a.m. on Feb. 2.
“On February 2, our median response time in metro/urban areas was seven minutes, 44 seconds for the most serious calls (Purple calls), and 11 minutes and 32 seconds for the next most serious calls,” it wrote.
“BCEHS is a provincial ambulance service with no municipal boundaries, when there are unstaffed ambulances there is a strong system in place to send ambulances from the surrounding stations.”
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Last year, BCEHS said it was hiring more than 600 additional full-time paramedics across the province, along with new dispatchers, to help improve services across the province.
A nationwide recruitment campaign is currently underway, it said on Friday.
“We can confirm that at times, we are experiencing an impact on ambulance levels due to staff sickness during the rise in COVID-19 cases in the community as a result of the Omicron variant and other factors,” it said in the statement.
“The pandemic, the overdose crisis and some extreme climate events have been physically and mentally exhausting for our front-line employees and that has also put pressure on staffing.”
Sustained shortages, however, are still affecting employee wellness, said Clifford, as paramedics have to begin their work day knowing they’re already short-staffed.
“Occupational stressors like this are really affecting our wellness, on top of all the other pressures that we already have a challenged system,” he explained.
“You’re going to be going from call to call to call, and it’s definitely wearing on us.”
To respond to the increased strain on paramedics, BCEHS said it is expanding its critical incident stress program and increasing the availability of trauma-informed therapists, peer supports and other resources.