Retired nurse did CPR on friend for 30 minutes while waiting

Retired nurse says she did CPR on her friend for around 30 minutes while waiting for an ambulance

Story is indicative of the problems exposed by this summer’s heat emergency, head of paramedic union says

Diane Roome says her long wait to get an ambulance for a friend who went into cardiac arrest is evidence that there’s something wrong with emergency services in B.C. 

Roome, a retired a nurse, knew exactly what to do when her friend Sheldon Billings collapsed on her porch in Duncan, B.C., on the evening of Sept. 10: she dialled 911, gave the phone to her sister who was there, and started CPR.

She didn’t stop until about half an hour later. 

Roome says it took about seven minutes for someone to answer the 911 call. Then it took another 20-25 minutes for an ambulance to arrive.

By the time it did, Billings was dead.

Roome thinks her friend would have died even if an ambulance had arrived sooner, but she says the delay was still very concerning.

“Maybe he wouldn’t have survived in my case, but in somebody else’s he clearly could have,” she said.

“I just think that this is a huge public issue. People don’t have help available … what the heck is somebody doing, not answering the phone?”

‘Not acceptable in any way’ 

Troy Clifford, president of the Ambulance Paramedics of B.C union, says this case is another example of the problems exposed by the “heat dome” in June, when extreme temperatures caused hundreds of deaths across the province.

He says emergency workers had been speaking out about problems such as delays, staffing levels and not enough ambulances, but the extreme heat event was “the straw that broke the camel’s back.”

At the time, some people had to wait for hours to get through to 911. 

“It’s tragic, and that’s not acceptable in any way,” says Clifford about any delays to access emergency services. 

Clifford said there have been some positive changes following the heat dome, including a shift to more permanent staffing, so that fewer paramedics are operating on an on-call model.

Ambulances have been added to many communities in B.C. too, including on Vancouver Island. Lake Cowichan — a community near Duncan, where Roome lives — recently got a new station with eight full-time paramedics. 

“You know, we’ve done a lot, but we have a lot more to do because we can never have scenarios like that,” says Clifford. “We need to stop every one of those.” 

In July, Health Minister Adrian Dix said the B.C. Emergency Health Services board of directors would be told to focus solely on improving ambulance services, and he tasked several high-profile hires to look into the issue.

Dix said the province would also be funding 85 new full-time paramedic positions, 20 full-time dispatchers, and putting in place 22 new ambulances while also converting 22 rural ambulance stations to provide service 24 hours a day.

The union representing E-Comm 911 dispatch operators has also warned the service is facing a major staffing shortage and says the system is ill-prepared to handle a major crisis.