Kelowna, B.C., residents could soon be seeing longer response times for emergency health services. The number of ambulances in the city has been reduced by 30 per cent.
In April 2020, the provincial government introduced the Rural, Remote, First Nations and Indigenous COVID-19 Response Framework to ensure people in rural and remote communities could access critical health services. This included the temporary contracting of an additional 55 ground and five air ambulances.
Now two and a half years later, BC Emergency Health Services (BCEHS) decided not to renew the contracts.
“They were supposed to address by Oct. 31 and they did nothing,” said Troy Clifford, provincial president of the Ambulance Paramedics of BC.
“That’s where our frustration is. This is an urgent matter that really impacts our ability to provide services.”
In a statement to Global News, BCEHS says due to current provisions in their agreement with the paramedics unit, they are unable to extend the contracts. That decision means the number of ambulances servicing the City of Kelowna was reduced from 10 to seven.
“We are fully aware of the growing needs and calls in Kelowna and demand analysis is underway in Kelowna and other metro and urban centres, to determine the resources needed to meet current demands,” said Cindy Leong, spokesperson for BC Emergency Health Services.
“In the meantime, when needed, BCEHS will staff ambulances on an occasional basis in accordance with provisions in the collective agreement,”
Paramedics are already dealing with staffing shortages, unstaffed ambulances and now with the number of ambulances being reduced by 30 per cent, wait times could increase.
“The reality is that’s what’s going to happen, people aren’t going to get in the ambulance. The inter-facility transfers are going to be delayed and you’re going to be pulling in from outlining areas like Lake Country, West Kelowna, Peachland, and potentially hurting the response times in those communities,” said Clifford.
Clifford says the reduced number of permanent paramedic positions in the city has also been affecting their ability to recruit staff.
“That’s hurting our staffing stability, it’s hurting our ability to fill ambulances. Having the instabilities of these jobs doesn’t help us recruit. Full-time jobs we know people will work.”
The paramedics union is currently in discussions with BCEHS, but Clifford says there is one main solution to the problem.
“Those ambulances need to come back as soon as possible, in some format and ultimately they need to be added as permanent resources,” Clifford said.
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