News1130 article

B.C. paramedics concerned about COVID-19 challenges during holiday season

VANCOUVER (CityNews) — B.C.’s paramedics working on the frontline of the pandemic are seriously concerned as they look ahead to the holiday season, which is already a difficult time of year when it comes to people’s mental health.

Troy Clifford has worked as a paramedic for 32 years. He says the holidays often bring a spike in calls, as depression and overdose numbers usually climb. He fears with increased isolation amid COVID-19, this season will be unlike any other.

“We’re worried about Christmas and the holidays. Whatever your faith is, this is going to be a very different Christmas,” says Clifford.

“We were just talking about it. How do we prepare for Christmas, and those pressures of people being isolated? Speaking to the overdose crisis, we’ve been really worried about people and this isn’t just a Downtown Eastside thing. Please use safely, don’t do it alone, which is hard to say because that’s the struggle — we are seeing people are alone right now.”

Clifford speaks for the Ambulance Paramedics of BC and says staffing shortages and stress have been compounded by the coronavirus pandemic.

“We’re really having a hard time recruiting and retaining and I think that has a lot to do with our models, and the volume we are facing. People don’t want to put themselves at risk,” he explains.

“It’s really exhausting for us, it’s so busy that we’re going to back-to-back calls.”

Worry about being exposed to the virus adds to the strain, Clifford explains, due to the fear of potentially bringing any illness home to family.

There have been dozens of reported cases of health care workers in B.C. contracting the virus.

On Wednesday, Dr. Bonnie Henry re-iterated the need for the public’s help to take the load off of frontline workers.

“Quite a number of health care workers, about 40, have either been positive with COVID or need to be in isolation, so that is also a strain. That is why all of us — because some of that may reflect community transmission —  we need to work hard to take that strain off,” she said.

As the lifesaving job continues to grow even more difficult for paramedics, Clifford is grappling with the same questions so many in B.C. are asking themselves as the province continues to see record numbers of new cases.

“It’s just like wow,” he says. “How long is this going to go on for? And how can we really help each other to get through this?”