Okanagan officials welcome new paramedic staffing models

Long wait times for an ambulance — a problem that many rural B.C. communities know all too well — is now the target of a new provincial initiative.

Each of the 60 communities included in the plan will switch to one of three new models that will improve 911 response times.

That’s in addition to 271 full-time paramedic positions being added to address staffing shortages, which ultimately leads to long wait times.

“In a time of emergency, you need paramedic service within eight minutes and 59 seconds. It’s a benchmark average,” said Jason Jackson, president of the Ambulance Paramedics of B.C. union.

With previous staffing models, paramedics could be on call without needing to be in the station.

The mayor of Lumby, Kevin Acton, says as a former paramedic, he knows how ineffective that could be.

“When I was on ambulance, I only lived a couple of minutes away,” said Acton, adding he could get out of bed and get quickly dressed and be on the road within 10 minutes.

Both Lumby and Midway will be part of a new model that will feature more reliable 24/7 service. Communities in this model will have paramedics in stations on duty three times more than the existing model.

“From all the communities that I’ve worked with, this service is really important to them,” said Boundary-Similkameen MLA Roly Russell.

“So improvements like this help provide better service to those communities in getting what they expect and deserve.”

According to Jackson, “Of those 60 communities we have, 45 now will have emergency coverage and immediate response within 90 seconds. Previously, that was only eight hours a day.”

In Lumby, the mayor said he had to step in at one point and provide CPR due to a delayed ambulance response time.

“I personally was called and did CPR on a person for half an hour at one point, waiting for an ambulance to arrive,” said Acton. “So I witnessed it myself.”

According to BC Emergency Health Services (BCEHS), the majority of Okanagan communities are already served by the top model.

“Today’s announcement by BCEHS is an important step toward providing more equitable access to care for people living in rural and remote communities, and better compensation and work environments for paramedics,” said health minister Adrian Dix.

“I commend the collaboration by BCEHS and CUPE 873 to make things better for paramedics who provide valuable, essential healthcare service to people in B.C.”

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Okanagan officials welcome new paramedic staffing models