The health-care system has been heavily impacted by low staffing levels, including paramedic shortages throughout the southern interior.
Many Okanagan communities are seeing ambulances sitting idle as there aren’t enough paramedics to properly staff them. According to the Ambulance Paramedics of BC, that means increased response times and less access to emergency health services.
“Penticton, Spallumcheen, Oliver, Osoyoos — those areas are down to one ambulance for each community on a regular basis and that’s 50 per cent of our ambulances. We’re seeing incredible call volumes and resources that just aren’t available because of our lack of paramedics to work our ambulances,” said Troy Clifford, president of the Ambulance Paramedics of BC.
Due to the shortage of paramedics, other first responders like firefighters are attending to more medical calls.
“Call volumes increased — it has increased year over year — but we’re seeing this year is more of an increase in calls we wouldn’t normally go to. We’re getting calls for where BC ambulance is delayed,” said fire chief of the Peachland Fire Department, Dennis Craig.
The Peachland Fire Department typically has to wait 20 to 40 minutes at a medical call before an ambulance arrives. They often have to be selective of how many crew members are responding to medical calls.
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“We are a paid-on-call department. Crews can be limited, so we don’t want to overcommit to the medical calls. Because once we’re committed to a medical call, we’re there. We have to wait until we can hand off that patient to the same level of care or higher care,” Craig said.
The Peachland Fire Department isn’t alone. Due to the shortage, the Kelowna Fire Department is also waiting longer for ambulances to arrive.
“If there are delays from time to time, we do experience a delay in an ambulance responding to a call. During those times, if we become aware of that, we are in constant communication with BC ambulance to rectify those situations,” said Scott Cronquist, deputy chief of the Kelowna Fire Department.
The Ambulance Paramedics of BC say one of the biggest issues is recruitment, which they attribute to the lack of competitive wages for paramedics.
“The short-term solution to really up staffing those ambulances is paying their full wages for those shifts,” said Clifford.
“That allows a secondary ambulance that are out of service in the Okanagan Valley and around the province. That would allow us a short term to fix this, to fill the positions and deal with the overall gap in wages and benefits disparity that’s really hurting our ability to recruit.”
Clifford says a long-term solution is to switch to a 24-hour model instead of on-call shifts.