B.C. to hire 271 new full-time paramedics serving 60 rural communities

The B.C. government is hiring 271 new full-time paramedics to serve 60 rural and remote communities, and is shifting the staffing model for paramedics in line with recommendations from those in the sector.

Thursday’s changes include the phasing out of the “scheduled on-call” shift in certain communities. Twenty-one of them will now move towards what’s described as an “alpha” 24/7 model that will triple the amount of time on-duty paramedics are in the station.

Fourteen will shift to a “kilo” model that includes a full-time permanent unit chief, providing more flexible staffing options, and 25 will use the “mix shift” framework, designed to improve work-life balance through a doubling of on-duty staff time.

BC Emergency Health Services (BCEHS) and two unions — Ambulance Paramedics of BC and Ambulance Dispatchers of BC — weighed in on the transformation through collective bargaining earlier this year.

The Ministry of Health and BCEHS have faced criticism for sustained staffing shortages that impact quality of life for paramedics and quality of care for patients, some of whom have shared horror stories of waiting for hours for care and transportation amid serious injury and illness.

“We are excited to be bringing these staffing model improvements to our paramedics and the rural and remote communities we serve,” said Leanne Heppell, chief ambulance officer for BCEHS, in a news release.

“We recognize that one staffing model doesn’t work for all parts of the province, and these three models will help us improve our services to better meet the needs of the community and patients and enable more of our paramedics to live and work in their home communities.”

While 271 full-time paramedics will be hired, they will add a net total of 239.5 full-time equivalent positions to the service. Another 55.2 full-time equivalent paramedics will also be dedicated to community-based care and outreach.

Paramedics will no longer be required to work for 72 straight hours, and the changes mean greater availability of paramedics on evenings, with more support for BCEHS on routine patient transfers, according a joint release from BCEHS, the Ministry of Health, and the Provincial Health Services Authority.

“Paramedics play a major role in small-town healthcare,” Ambulance Paramedics of BC president Jason Jackson said.

“With this announcement … we will see a renewed commitment to providing many new full-time resources to dozens of communities across B.C.”

Collective bargaining also a resulted in an on-call pay increase from $2 per hour to $12 per hour.

“Everyone deserves to get reliable access to care, no matter where they live,” Parliamentary Secretary for Rural Health Jennifer Rice said. “This announcement will go a long way in supporting rural and remote communities and will help ensure more equitable access to health care.”

The alpha shift communities include: Gabriola Island, Gold River, Quadra Island, Boston Bar, Bowen Island, Bella Coola, Madeira Park, Clinton, Logan Lake, Lumby, Alexis Creek, Midway, Fruitvale, Salmo, McBride, Mackenzie, Daajing Giids, Masset, Dease Lake, Fraser Lake, and Tumbler Ridge.

The mix shift communities are: Alert Bay, Mayne Island, Pender Island, Port Renfrew, Galiano Island, Sayward, Tahsis, Ucluelet, Cortes Island, Denman Island, Port Alice, Bella Bella, Texada, Anahim Lake, Lytton, Elkford, Greenwood, Kaslo, New Denver, Riondel, Rossland Winlaw, Granisle, Southside, and Hudson’s Hope.

The kilo communities include: Sointula, Zeballos, Seton Portage, Gold Bridge, Blue River, Edgewood, Field, Bear Lake, Wells, Stewart, Port Clements, Kitwanga, Sandspit, and Atlan.

In a Thursday press conference, Health Minister Adrian Dix billed the announcement as an “unprecedented” investment in emergency health care.