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B.C. island residents worry lack of emergency ferry service putting lives at risk

Click to play video: 'Quadra Island residents worry about no emergency ferry'
Quadra Island residents worry about no emergency ferry
Residents of Quadra Island say they're worried about their health and safety, now that BC Ferries says it' can't guarantee emergency service at night. Kylie Stanton reports. – Jul 21, 2022

Residents of British Columbia’s Quadra Island are raising safety concerns over what they say is a lack of around-the-clock medical care.

The island, home to about 2,700 year-round-residents, doesn’t have a hospital, and used to rely on emergency ferry service between the hours of 10:30 p.m. and 6:15 a.m. to transport paramedics and patients in a crisis.

But locals say that 24-hour emergency ferry service has recently been taken off line due to a staffing issue, leaving a critical overnight cap in coverage.

Read more: Bowen Island raises concern about spotty ambulance coverage

“In the old days, you would call 911, they would connect you to ambulance, and if the ambulance people thought it was appropriate they would call the ferry service, and the engineer would rev up the ferry and you would be taken to Campbell River to emergency,” Heidi Ridgeway, a realtor and 29-year resident of the Island, told Global News.

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“(Now,) we’ve had patients sitting in the ferry parking lot in the ambulance waiting until the first ferry to get to emergency … and it is 10 minutes away.”

Ridgeway has created a petition calling for a return of emergency service, which has collected 1,030 signatures so far.

Click to play video: 'Woman dies of cardiac arrest after ambulance and ER issues in Ashcroft, B.C.'
Woman dies of cardiac arrest after ambulance and ER issues in Ashcroft, B.C.

BC Ferries told Global News it provides after-hours emergency service as a voluntary services to island communities, and is not under contract to do so.

“These services fall under BC Emergency Health Services (BCEHS) who have a number of transportation options organized to support emergency evacuation from Island communities,” it said.

“BC Ferries makes every effort to provide service after hours and crew are willing to step in when needed, however there can be challenges to providing this service including availability of crew.”

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The company said in Quadra Island’s case, most of the crew is based in Campbell River and would need to be transported back to the island to prepare the ferry.

In a statement, BC Emergency Health Services said dispatchers have several options in an overnight emergency situation, including calling in an air ambulance.

The service also contracts with a water taxi based in Campbell River, which can potentially transport a patient.

“Sorry, it doesn’t quite work,” Jim Abram, the Island’s regional director, told Global News.

Read more: ‘Extreme’: B.C. paramedics’ union on shift with only 1 staffed ambulance in Vancouver

Abram said the nearest air ambulance is based in Richmond, a one-hour flight away. Helicopters are also limited by weather and visibility, he said.

The water taxi is also susceptible to weather, he said, and requires paramedics to take a patient out of ambulance and transport them down a wharf and steep ramp to load them onto the boat.

Click to play video: 'Changes made to B.C. ambulance since 2021 heat dome'
Changes made to B.C. ambulance since 2021 heat dome

He said the option of last resort is the Canadian Coast Guard, which is often unavailable due to other marine emergencies.

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“What do we do with people that are in cardiac arrest, or that have fallen and broken a hip or that have been in a motor vehicle accident or seriously injured with internal injuries, or head injuries?” Abram asked.

“We need to be able to get those people to town. The people on Quadra are concerned.”

Read more: ‘Degrading’: 95-year-old waits six hours for ambulance on Vancouver apartment floor

Abram said he had recently met with the boards of both BC Ferries and the BC Ambulance Service to express concerns.

He said he wants to see a return to 24-hour emergency ferry service, and suggested the water taxi be used to bring crew to the island while paramedics are collecting the patient, if staffing is the issue.

Ridgeway said she’s hopeful the meeting could deliver results.

“They are promising us they are going to have some solution for us … in a week, hopefully we’re going to get something back from them,” she said.

“I want to be optimistic about it, but it’s tough.”

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