Union backs call for 2nd WV ambulance

Urgent response times miss national target North Shore News August 21.2013


August 24, 2013 at 12:53 PM

Union backs call for 2nd WV ambulance

Urgent response times miss national target

Anne Watson / North Shore News
August 21, 2013

Ambulance Service in the District of West Vancouver is overworked and short on staff, says a local union representative.

"(Improving) staffing and work load levels has been something that we've been advocating for a number of years," said Cameron Eby, provincial executive with the Ambulance Paramedics of B.C. union and a North Vancouver paramedic. "In a metropolitan setting we need far more than that, unfortunately West Vancouver is what we would call understaffed."

The municipality currently has one ambulance stationed at the fire hall on 16th Street, said Eby, while the City of North Vancouver has two at Lions Gate Hospital and the District of North Vancouver has one stationed near Deep Cove.

Eby said recommendations for the number of ambulances and resources in the Lower Mainland were made more than 10 years ago.

"Unfortunately the government/employer decided not to implement those changes and so as a result we've got the same staffing in many municipalities, including West Vancouver, that we've had for 15 or 20 years, even though the population has greatly increased," he said.

Kelsie Carwithen, spokeswoman for B.C. Ambulance Service, said they are working at recruiting more paramedics for the Greater Vancouver area, including the North Shore.

"BCAS provides a high level of service to the North Shore using seven ambulances that respond to calls in the North Shore/Lions Bay area," said Carwithen. "It is common practice for ambulances to manoeuvre across municipal boundaries to respond to calls as needed."

According to the Ambulance Paramedics of B.C., British Columbia's paramedics service one of the largest areas in the world and receive around 500,000 calls annually.

"Because we are a provincial service, ambulances do certainly cross those boundaries, but that also works the other way," Eby said. "The West Vancouver ambulance will sometimes be in Vancouver or sometimes be in North Vancouver doing calls and that will result in an ambulance from either Lions Bay or Squamish having to come down to cover West Vancouver."

Eby said within the past five years, calls have increased and so have response times. "It's very regular that we're pulled over into West Vancouver to cover or actually respond to calls. When we're responding from Deep Cove all the way to the British Properties, you can imagine that's going to be a 20-to 25-minute response time."

Eby said the response time for the most urgent calls is supposed to be under half that time.

"The national standard response time is nine minutes and unfortunately B.C. Ambulance doesn't meet that in virtually any of their areas," said Eby. "B.C. Ambulance is currently around 13 minutes and less life threatening calls are significantly more than that."

Carwithen said there are a number of factors that can affect response times, including traffic, weather and road infrastructure. "Population and demand growth, combined with delays at hospital emergency departments, continue to put pressure on ambulance response times in urban and metropolitan communities."

Carwithen said they have implemented a number of initiatives aimed at improving response times. "The 'national standard' that has been cited is actually a target and is only for urgent calls in metropolitan and urban areas - it does not apply to all calls in all areas," she said. "BCAS is not currently aware of another North American jurisdiction meeting the response time target."

She said response time figures only reflect the response time of paramedics not the arrival time of other first responders, typically firefighters.

"In 2012/13, BCAS's average provincial response time for urgent calls in urban areas was 10 minutes, one second - a one second improvement from 2011/12," said Carwithen. "Response times are extremely important, but the care and treatment paramedics provide when they arrive on scene is equally important."

Eby said the union would like to work more with the government on decreasing response times. "Currently we serve as not only the body that negotiates wages and such for paramedics but we're also an advocate for the patients, for the profession and for our response times and everything is sort of under that umbrella," said Eby. "The government has an obligation to provide ambulance services to British Columbians and we think that it should be happening in a timely fashion."

West Vancouver resident Heather Gordon's husband is a paramedic. She said with only one ambulance in service, the crews are busy all the time and constantly on the go, creating a stressful work environment. "It didn't use to be so busy here in West Van, and now it's just gotten busier and busier, so it's just not cutting it."