New paramedic staffing models aim to up service in rural and remote B.C.

B.C. says it’s introducing three new paramedic staffing models to increase ambulance care in 60 rural and remote communities.

The new models will continue with the province’s transition away from on-call shifts and toward more full-time positions, with the goal of bettering conditions for paramedics and improving access to ambulances in areas that have historically been under-served.

BC Emergency Health Services says it’s adding 271 full-time positions to support the transition.

The type of staffing model being implemented depends on the size and needs of each of the 60 communities.

Rural and remote communities on the larger size, such as Gabriola Island or Tumbler Ridge, will transition to a 24/7 “Alpha” model. This means the communities will have at least eight full-time paramedics in their stations, with someone always on, no matter the time of day. This model will be implemented in 21 regions and will amount to paramedics being on-duty three times more than currently.

Slightly smaller communities, such as Bella Bella or Lytton, will move to a mixed staffing model. They will have eight part-time staff, who will be on-duty for 16 hours a day and on-call for another eight. This model will be used in 25 communities and will amount to staff being on-duty twice as often as currently.

Communities judged to have the fewest ambulance needs, such as Field or Kitwanga, will switch to a “Kilo” model. This model means the communities will have one full-time permanent unit chief and varying paramedic staffing levels. It will be used in 14 communities.

Jason Jackson, the new president of the Ambulance Paramedics of BC union, said the models will both increase ambulance services in the chosen communities and improve working conditions for paramedics. The staffing changes come almost a year after paramedics ratified their latest contract, in which on-call pay was bumped from $2 to $12 an hour and mental health benefits were introduced.

Jackson said all these changes should make a difference in recruiting and retaining people, as the province continues to face a paramedic shortage.

Parliamentary Secretary for Rural Health Jennifer Rice said the change is about equity.

“Everyone deserves to get reliable access to care, no matter where they live.”

That hasn’t always been the case for residents of rural and remote communities in B.C., some of which have gone days at a time without any local paramedics available for emergency medical calls. Over the summer and early fall of 2022, for instance, Quadra Island had no local paramedics for 11 days, according to data from Ambulance Paramedics of BC. Quadra Island is one of the communities now slated for the 24/7 model.