Paramedic burnout a growing concern as staff shortages continue in B.C.

With the ongoing paramedic shortages across B.C., burnout and mental health issues are hitting first responders worse than ever and in a way the union has never seen before.

“Thirty per cent of our paramedics are either off on workplace psychological injuries or are on treatment on our Clinical Incident Stress Management program seeing a psychologist or a mental health professional,” said president of Ambulance Paramedics of B.C., Troy Clifford.

“Or they’re at work managing with self-care or with a physician.”

Calls for more available mental health resources for first responders are increasing because, without them, the APBC believes the industry could lose even more paramedics.

“So, that when (paramedics) go into these situations, they know how to deal with it and then when they get overwhelmed they have resources to help as opposed to what the historical practice has always been where we just keep moving on until that wave hits and we can’t move forward anymore, which means we lose more paramedics and dispatchers to injuries,” said Robert Parkinson, Ambulance Paramedic BC Health and Wellness Director.

Over the last few years, BC paramedics have been dealing with an ongoing opioid crisis, a pandemic, natural disasters, and a record-breaking heat wave, all of this resulting in an uptick in emergency calls, intense pressure, and even more shortages.

With paramedic shortages come ambulance delays, leaving paramedics with a feeling of guilt for not getting to a scene in an appropriate amount of time.

“When we can’t do our best that’s psychological injury,” said Clifford.

“Because of system failure, bureaucracy, or operational stressors, not because we can’t treat the patient. So when we see a call holding or we’re in a hospital on a holding pattern waiting to drop off a patient and we know there are serious calls holding. Somebody’s loved one is waiting for an ambulance.”

On a regular basis, many communities in the Okanagan are operating without enough paramedics to staff the available fleet of ambulances, leaving them at risk of delayed response times.

“The smaller communities where we have two ambulances on a regular basis were down to, I’d say over 50 per cent of the time was down to one ambulance in those communities,” said Clifford.

The Ambulance Paramedics of BC will officially be at the bargaining table Monday, now that their collective agreement is up. They plan to address the disparity in wages and benefits between other first responder agencies.