Paramedics reaching out to serve towns better

Despite some serious challenges, the BC Ambulance Service wants to “work better together” with the towns of Osoyoos and Oliver.

That’s what the Paramedic Station Unit Chief and Provincial President of Ambulance Paramedics and Dispatchers of BC said to both town councils recently.

Troy Clifford, a 35-year veteran, said he realized that paramedics did not have a lot of relationships with municipalities in the past. But the hope is that will change.

The Osoyoos station chief said he is advocating for better patient care and service delivery in BC, where approximately 4,600 paramedics work.

Clifford acknowledged they experienced some challenges with response times, recruitment, and out of service levels in 2021. “We’re working on it; we’re doing a better job now but it’s still a real challenge,” Clifford said.

All this came to a head during the “heat dome” in June of 2021, he said, citing a lack of response (service delivery) that was questioned publicly and followed up with the Ministry of Health announcing a number of changes to the ambulance service. Clifford said these included a new government board, enhancements to full-time coverage, and re-establishing an emergency preparedness division within the ambulance service.

“I hope as we head into the summer season we’ll see better response times.”

Clifford suggested they work with both town councils to put pressure on the government to provide the services that citizens deserve in Oliver and Osoyoos.  

He acknowledged that members of the Oliver and Osoyoos Fire Departments are responding to medical calls now, which is a “vital part in the chain of survival.” 

He praised the firefighters for doing an excellent job, saying that paramedics are grateful for this service.

“Unfortunately, what happened is we are short staffed; we don’t have enough resources,” Clifford said, noting how local paramedics get pulled into Penticton. “It’s 10 p.m. at night and we have to go to Penticton for non-critical [calls]; that’s  another area depleting the resources in your community.”

Clifford stated they need answers from the provincial government on whether South Okanagan General Hospital (SOGH) is going to be open 24 hours and fully staffed or not.

“We need to resolve these nighttime issues at SOGH. It’s a great hospital and the staff are amazing, but we need to be able to transport people there at night and get the right care without having to go to Penticton.”

Clifford highlighted the importance of the “community paramedic program” in rural towns. He explained these are separate teams of paramedics that provide services to seniors, Indigenous people, and those who need addiction and mental health support. He said not everyone needs service in the back of an ambulance or in a hospital’s emergency department, only to be sent home through a “revolving door.”

Oliver currently does not have a community paramedic program, and Osoyoos is in the midst of starting one up again after paramedic Todd Kunz left the position for a full-time spot in day service.

Clifford said recruitment was quite a challenge considering the old, $2 per hour on-call model that was negotiated out of their collective agreement. 

“We weren’t competitive [with other professions],” he said.

The other challenge, Clifford said, is the private industry where you can work as a medic in a pick-up truck for $500 to $600 per day. 

Clifford said they did a good recruitment drive and hired a lot of local people, adding full-time resources. “Prior to COVID, 30 per cent of us in BC were full time, while 70 per cent were on- call, part time. Now we’re 75 per cent full time and 25 part time.”

Clifford said there is a full-time ambulance in Oliver during the day, which is really helping service delivery.

“It’s our shift to more full time, competitive wage and benefits, and I’m optimistic that we’re getting people coming into the profession because it’s a great job.”

While both Osoyoos and Oliver have a full-time ambulance service, both could do with another car at night, Clifford noted. 

“I see the delays first hand; it really impacts patient care. There are a lot of seniors who need care, and without local doctors there are a lot more calls [for sick people] in the community.”

Clifford concluded by saying he is going to hold the government’s toes to the fire to improve service delivery.

Paramedics reaching out to serve towns better