‘My last straw’: Vancouver paramedic on brink of quitting

‘My last straw’: Vancouver paramedic on brink of quitting due to hospital protests

A Vancouver paramedic with more than 30 years experience says she is disheartened and on the verge of quitting after the protests against mandatory COVID-19 vaccines and vaccine passports that took place Wednesday outside hospitals across the country. 

The paramedic, whose identity CBC has agreed to keep confidential because she fears she could lose her job, says it was an emergency call during the protests that pushed her to the edge.

“I watched someone start to bleed to death when they didn’t have to, when time would have made all the difference in the world,” she said. “That was my last straw.”

The paramedic and her team had picked up the patient — who had been critically injured in an industrial accident and had an arterial bleed — from a site on Vancouver’s waterfront. 

They headed to St. Paul’s Hospital in downtown Vancouver. But a trip that would have normally taken around eight minutes took more than twice as long due to traffic. 

“When we did finally get to St. Paul’s, there were protesters blocking the driveway — they’ve got signs and they’re yelling. So it’s the first we knew about anything going on,” she said.

Police moved protesters

Police were able to move the protesters out of the way, she said, and the patient was finally taken to surgery. But in any emergency, time is of the essence — and the paramedic says precious time was lost because of the activity around the hospital. 

She called it a complete reversal from the start of the pandemic, when people took to their balconies and front doors to applaud, cheer and bang pots and pans for frontline health-care workers. 

“At first, people were just happy we were going to work. And now we’re being stopped from taking people into an emergency. It’s so hard. It’s so disheartening.” 

Wednesday’s protests have already attracted a lot of criticism. They came a little over a week after B.C. announced its plans to require proof of COVID-19 vaccination for a range of social and recreational activities.

The largest protest took place in Vancouver, with police estimating that as many as 5,000 people were blocking traffic at the intersection of Cambie Street and 12th Avenue. Though Vancouver Coastal Health said there were no disruptions to patient care, B.C. Ambulance Service says there were several reports of slowdowns as paramedics navigated the congestion.

“This is Vancouver. We have protests … every second day downtown. Somebody will protest something and we just work around as emergency response vehicles. But don’t block the entrances to our hospitals,” said the paramedic.

A difficult year

It has been a difficult year and a half for the city’s paramedics. Not only have they had to adjust to the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, they are also on the frontline of the toxic drug overdose crisis.

In July, paramedics in B.C.’s Lower Mainland were stretched to their limits during a heat wave where more than 700 people died.

“There’s so much the public does not see. It’s not just COVID. We’re still dealing with traffic accidents. We’re still dealing with pedestrians struck and the overdose crisis,” she said.

She described transporting a patient who didn’t want to wear a mask and didn’t believe COVID-19 was real, only to take them to a hospital where emergency beds are chock full with coronavirus patients. 

“We’ve got hospitals that are bursting at the seams on a normal day, without a COVID pandemic. And now we’ve got an angry general public that thinks that all health-care workers are up to something,” she said. 

New paramedics, dispatchers to be hired

In July, prompted by the mass fatalities from the heat wave, B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix announced that the province would fund 85 new full-time paramedic positions, 20 full-time dispatchers and 22 new ambulances, while also converting 22 rural ambulance stations to provide service 24/7 as a measure to alleviate the pressures on existing paramedic staff.

But that relief might be too late for this 33-year veteran.

“I’ve been here all these years in the city and I’ve never seen anything like this,” she said, referring to Wednesday’s protests. 

“I’m at the point of saying I’m done … I’m so close to it that it’s not going to take any time at all. It could be today or tomorrow. I’m exhausted by this.”