CBC News Article

Northern B.C. communities to see more full-time paramedics, says union president

18 rural ambulance stations to transition from on-call to on-shift

Northern B.C. will soon see more paramedics permanently working in small communities.

Troy Clifford, president of the Ambulance, Paramedics, and Dispatchers of B.C., says B.C. Emergency Health Services is hiring full-time employees in at least 18 ambulance stations as part of a plan to transition from an “on-call” emergency service model.

“Pretty much every community in the north that is a … rural or urban centre … will have a 24-hour ambulance to respond to community patients,” Clifford says.

The union president says Atlin, Bear Lake, Dease Lake, Granisle, Hudson’s Hope, Mackenzie, McBride, Port Clements, Southside, Stewart, and Wells will soon see paramedics working scheduled full-time shifts, living in the community.

They’ll provide community health services, as well as emergency response during scheduled shifts. Employees then remain on-call for emergency response after the end of their shifts.

Ambulance stations in some larger regional centres, including Burns Lake, Chetwynd, Houston, Fort St James, Fort Nelson and Vanderhoof, will transition to full-time centres staffed 24 hours a day. Eight full-time paramedics will be hired at each of these stations, drawn from existing staff and new hires.

BCEHS is also hiring new paramedics in Prince George, and positioning a full-time air ambulance helicopter in the city.

Rural staffing a challenge

Clifford admits rural emergency health care staffing has been a challenge.

“We got ourselves in a situation that is going to take time to fix,”  he told Carolina de Ryk, host of CBC’s Daybreak North.

“Our biggest challenge right now is to recruit into the profession because of our precarious work model, what I call the on-call, $2-an-hour, pager-pay model.”

Historically, many smaller B.C. communities have been served by on-call ambulances, dispatched by pager in emergency situations only. Paramedics were paid a $2-an-hour stipend to be on call and those jobs often supplemented their regular work.

Clifford says the profession faces tough competition from industries that hire certified and experienced health and safety staff for camps and work sites

He says full-time employment will make it easier to attract permanent paramedics to a community, or hire residents already qualified as paramedics.  

Clifford says the new jobs are currently posted by BCEHS, and hiring should be completed by Nov. 1.

Despite the change in staffing, the union president says remote northern communities still need a boost in services.

“We have those really remote communities that just don’t have the call volumes, but still have the need for emergency front line care.”