Recruitment issues leading to understaffed paramedics

Recruitment issues leading to understaffed paramedics

FORT ST. JOHN, B.C. – The president of the Ambulance Paramedics & Dispatchers of BC is sounding the alarm on staffing issues across the province, and Fort St. John is no different.

Troy Clifford says in February, Fort St. John had 30 shifts that were unstaffed due to a lack of available paramedics. Data shows an increased call volume of six per cent each year across the province.

The Ministry of Health funds the ambulance and paramedic services in BC. British Columbia Emergency Health Services is the organization accountable for running the ambulance service. Clifford says the agency is not managing the demand and the administration challenges.

Clifford says the administration and management of the ambulance service have not kept pace with the needs of the public and patients, as well as the paramedics.

“That’s where we’re focused on accountability there. They’re not even acknowledging that we have a staffing and recruitment problem,” says Clifford.

“It’s twofold, their inability to administer and fill vacancies and scheduling, as well as recruitment into the profession because of our largely on-call, part-time, service delivery model.”

Under the current model, Clifford says paramedics get paid $2 an hour while on-call. When they are on standby or at the station, they receive minimum wage. Only when they are on a 911 call or interhospital patient transfer, do paramedics get paid their full paramedic wages.

“That’s a real deterrent to recruiting people into our profession, and that’s probably one of the biggest issues in rural and remote areas that we’ve failed to keep pace with.”

With wages like that, Clifford says paramedics are either going to other provinces or are choosing to go into the private sector as industry medics or first responders. It’s not an issue of a lack of qualified individuals in the province, though.

“That’s where we need to do better at offering them something to recruit them into our profession.”

Areas like the north sometimes have recruitment issues because of geography, but Clifford says there are solutions.

“Not everybody is going to move to Fort St. John, but if you recruit from people who live there and have meaningful work to offer, then they’re going to stay in those communities.”

He adds other agencies offer incentives to move to remote communities, but he maintains the best way to keep staff is to recruit locally.

“Unless you recruit from those communities, you’re not going to sustain it.”

According to Clifford, the paramedics are frustrated, but they love their job and continue to do it.

“They’re committed, they’re dedicated, they’re here for the people. They’re frustrated with the organization’s lack of acknowledgement of the stresses they’re facing, but that doesn’t prevent them from going out and doing their best every day.”