Paramedics stretched to limit

Paramedics stretched to limit

Record-setting call volume stretching B.C. paramedics to breaking point

UPDATE 5:15 p.m.

BC Emergency Health Services said another record for 911 calls was set Monday, with paramedics dispatched to 1,975 medical emergencies. One dispatch centre alone got more than 3000 calls, double their regular number.

Monday, paramedics responded to 132 heat stroke and heat exhaustion calls. So far this month, there have been 534 such calls, compared to only 14 in June 2020.

BCEHS says it is continuously monitoring staffing levels and making daily adjustments. It also plans to add more than 500 permanent positions throughout the province this year.

ORIGINAL 3:23 p.m.

“It’s really a tragic situation.”

Ambulance Paramedics of BC – CUPE Local 873 President Troy Clifford is weighing in as reports of people dying because of the record-setting heat in the province.

“We are seeing a rise across the province in cardiac arrests and sudden deaths. It wouldn’t be fair for me to attribute that to heat, but it would be a fairly safe assumption that a number of them are related to the impacts of heat. We know that heat exhaustion can lead to heatstroke, which is a medical emergency,” said Clifford.

Clifford is the Paramedic Station Unit Chief in Osoyoos and has spent most of his 33-year career in the Okanagan. He said paramedics are stretched to the limit, and there are not enough resources to respond to all the calls in a timely manner.

“We are used to hot weather in the Okanagan, but never anything like this. We’ve been following the issues around the Lower Mainland, but it’s not just about the Lower Mainland. We’re seeing this incredible call volume across the province, but we’re also seeing in conjunction with that, our out-of-service levels (rising). We don’t have the resources, staff, to cover the ambulances that we have. That’s impacting Kelowna and a lot of the smaller communities. We just don’t have enough paramedics to fill all the vacant shifts,” said Clifford.

He said call volume is up 20 to 50 percent, and it’s taking an emotional toll on paramedics.

“I talked to one of our critical incident stress managers in the Okanagan. She said she’s never seen this level of access to critical incident resources for our members. Our dispatchers are really under a lot of pressure. We’re seeing incredible amounts of waits for ambulances, primarily in the Lower Mainland where the highest volume is, but we’re seeing it in other higher metro areas like Kelowna. Even in smaller communities, we just don’t have the capacity to cope.”

Clifford believes more needs to be done to prepare for these kinds of weather-related emergencies.

“You don’t staff your ambulance service for potential disasters, but you do prepare for it,” he said. “We know that every year our calls go up six percent, but we’re not adding six percent to our fleet.”

Minister of Health Adrian Dix even commented on the problem during his COVID-19 update on Monday. “This weekend was extremely challenging for many health care staff in B.C. Emergency Health Services, our ambulance paramedics, saw two consecutive days with record call volumes; on Friday with 1,833 dispatches and on Saturday with 1,850 dispatches.”

He followed that up with more comments Tuesday, saying any ambulance system would be stressed by the record-breaking heat we are seeing, adding the province is working to hire hundreds of B.C. Emergency Health Services staff.