B.C. woman told to get to hospital on her own amid ambulance shortage

B.C. woman told to get to hospital on her own amid ambulance shortage

A B.C. woman is raising new concerns about rural ambulance service, after she was told to transport herself to hospital following a serious fall.

Tania Abbey had gathered with family and friends at her Cranbrook home on New Year’s Eve to ring in 2023, when she slipped and was seriously hurt.

The mishap left her with a fractured arm, a chipped bone in her foot and a concussion that’s still giving her symptoms.

“My arm was probably the worst of it. I suffered for six days before I could get surgery,” she said.

“When I initially fell, my arm was broken so severely that it went completely backwards at 90 degrees.”

The injuries and pain were severe enough that Abbey was unable to move from the floor.

She said her husband called 911, and was told to leave her in place and that an ambulance would be dispatched.

But about an hour later, she said, an operator phoned them back.

“(They) asked if I was doing OK, and said basically if they could get me up they should take me to the hospital themselves,” she said.

Ultimately her family was able to get her into a vehicle and drive her to the hospital, a process she described as extremely painful.

“I would never have been able to get off the floor by myself. They’re very lucky that I had a house full of people to get me up off the ground and save their butts because I would have been on the ground for a very long time waiting,” Abbey said.

In a statement, BC Emergency Health Services, which operates the ambulance service, said Abbey’s case was classified as “Code Yellow,” meaning it was a “low acuity call.”

It said many of its paramedics were already responding to high-priority emergencies at the time, and that no ambulance was available for about an hour.

Health Minister Adrian Dix acknowledged that there are improvements to be made to rural ambulance service, but said that the ambulance service needs to triage responses regardless of where it is operating in the province.

“We are answering more calls by a substantial margin than ever before, more serious calls than ever before,” he said.

“If there’s a very serious case, if someone has something wrong with them that requires someone to get there within nine minutes which is really the standard in significant cases, they are going to come before someone who is also seriously hurt and would expect an ambulance.”

Dix said the province has significantly boosted funding to the BC Ambulance Service in recent years, including major changes to turn it into a largely professional rather than casual job.

But Ambulance Paramedics of BC Union president Troy Clifford said despite improvements, resourcing remains a major challenge in smaller B.C. communities.

“What’s not reasonable is that somebody had to wait an extended amount of time … she needed transport to the hospital by a paramedic with the skills and that to manage her injuries and her pain, and that didn’t happen,” he said.

Paramedics and their provincial employer recently reached a tentative contract agreement, the details of which have yet to be published pending ratification.

Rural on-call shifting and pay, along with wage disparities with other first responders and healthcare workers were key sticking points in the bargaining process.

Those issues are among the roots of the staffing and resource problems the service continues to have in communities like Abbey’s, he said.

“That’s recruitment and retention, and we’re working on that, but we’re still short staffed in terms of number of ambulances in a large community that is very busy.”

For her part, Abbey is now on the mend, following surgery for her arm and a stay in hospital.

She praised the work of hospital staff, and said she doesn’t blame those working for the ambulance service for what happened.

“I put it on my Facebook that the ambulance hadn’t shown up, and I’ve had lots of people commenting they had similar experiences with trouble with the ambulance not coming or long wait times in our area — that’s why I am doing this today,” she said.

“It’s not the ambulance drivers themselves, it’s that we don’t have the amount of people we need here in Cranbrook for the area we have, and the workers can’t keep up. It needs to be addressed before something serious happens, if it hasn’t already.”