Changes to the British Columbia Emergency Health Services (BCEHS) this fall are likely to be welcomed after regional leaders expressed frustration over rural paramedic services.
Michael Lee, a BCEHS manager of patient care delivery for the Nechako District spoke to the Regional District of Bulkley-Nechako (RDBN) on Oct. 24 about a new employment deal for paramedics.
The Health Employers Association of BC and the Ambulance Paramedics & Ambulance Dispatchers Bargaining Association of BC ratified on Oct. 1 a three-year agreement that calls for hundreds of new positions for ambulance paramedics and more stability for working in rural areas.
The deal is retroactive to April 1, when the previous contract ran out, and includes the provincial government’s general wage settlement of two-per-cent pay increases each year.
The agreement brings the new scheduled on-call (SOC) positions that are regular, permanent positions and that differ from the older model of part time on-call and standby paramedic roles that were prevalent in smaller communities.
“It has given us opportunities to increase our permanent staffing in many of the communities represented here today,” Lee said.
“We’ve got a three-year plan to bring permanent positions to rural and remote B.C. which will help stabilize our staffing levels and thus improve our response times and directly impact patient care.”
One of the goals of the new agreement is to give paramedics more incentives to remain in local communities rather than heading to larger cities.
“If there’s that Burns Lake paramedic or Fraser Lake paramedic there’s meaningful work for them to carry on in a rural community and hopefully stay there,” Lee said.
The responses from several RDBN directors showed just how much change is needed with BCEHS in this area.
One problem is that the limited number of paramedic staff and vehicles means that when a patient is transported out of the community to a larger hospital that community is left with too few ambulances.
“When we move a patient from say from Burns Lake to Prince George, typically what would happen is we would transport the patient and drop them off and they make their way to their base community,” Lee said in response.
“If a call happens and you’re the closest car it stands to reason that you would send that closest car to that incident to provide that care. The goal is always to go those resources back to the base community as fast as possible. That does get to be a struggle with traffic, with weather and even with additional patient transfers.”
Director Kim Watt-Senner from Fraser Lake pointed out that problems with ambulances being able to return quickly occur more often than they should.
“The feedback we’re getting in Fraser Lake from our paramedics is that they’re extremely frustrated that they cannot get back to their community, which leaves us very vulnerable.”
She went on to press Lee further on the issue, saying that ambulance shortages must be addressed.
“It is a case where a kilo car was sent to a different community because of a lack of resources that are available in that community, and the second kilo car was dispatched to another location which left us vulnerable. In Fraser Lake and in our respective communities and smaller communities we’re hurting and we need BC Ambulance’s help.”
Lee said that the new collective agreements provide opportunities to ameliorate those shortages, even though the details were still being worked out and it wasn’t yet known how new resources would be allocated to different communities.