Ambulance boost cheered

Paramedics union welcomes expanded funding and service across Thompson-Okanagan

The rollout of expanded ambulance service in the Thompson-Okanagan is being welcomed by the union that represents paramedics.

Ambulance Paramedics of BC president Troy Clifford says the changes are progressing well since Health Minister Adrian Dix announced in July funding for new full-time paramedics across the province.

“Most of it is all coming to fruition,” Clifford says of the 24 additional ambulances. “They are all being filled.”

In addition, 26 more ambulances are expected to come into service across the province in November.

This month, Princeton, Keremeos, Peachland, Sicamous and Revelstoke all expanded service to 24 hours a day.

Merritt, Ashcroft, Chase, Enderby, Armstrong, Lake Country, Summerland, Oliver and Osoyoos will also soon have 24/7 service

Vernon and West Kelowna (already full time) will each get an additional ambulance next month.

“This level of paramedic staffing is really unprecedented,” says BC Emergency Health Services spokesperson Shannon Miller.

“The changes in the Okanagan are being echoed across the province in BCEHS’s move away from our historical reliance on ‘on-call’ paramedics to more permanent staffing models, especially in rural and remote communities,” says Miller.

The historic heat wave over the summer exposed some of the challenges regarding wait times.

“We were having challenges leading up [to the heat wave]. We’re still having challenges, but really the heat crisis is what exposed the lack of response which questioned the ambulance service response – and that’s really when the minister responded with the announcements he made on July 14,” says Clifford.

Dix said in July the expansion “builds on the progress we’ve already made, it strengthens the B.C. ambulance system, it ensures that B.C.’s ambulance system is faster and more responsive to British Columbians.”

Another challenge facing the union is recruiting, says Clifford, due to the $2 per hour on-call pay for part-time paramedics.

That means paramedics earn $2 per hour until a call comes in, then get bumped up to their normal rate of pay.

“We’re competing against other industries where medics can go to work in the industry and make significantly more money, so when you come into our part-time pay scheme where you’re making $2 an hour while you wait for a call, that is not allowing us to recruit into the profession,” says Clifford.