Squamish under-resourced: paramedic union

The union representing Squamish’s paramedics told municipal council that the town is under-resourced to respond to emergencies.

On March 28, members of the Ambulance Paramedics of BC spoke to elected officials about the challenges facing first responders.

“We need to add significant resources to meet the demands of the Howe Sound and Squamish area,” said Troy Clifford, the union’s president.

“Hospital resources are diminished.”

He said that in the Sea to Sky, transferring patients between hospital facilities siphons up staff resources that could be used otherwise for responding to emergencies.

Clifford also noted that calls from neighbouring communities, including those in the Vancouver area, tend to pull ambulances from Squamish.

“When you’re understaffed and other areas are under-resourced, and you pull resources out of [a] community — that puts your patients at risk,” he said.

By Clifford’s account, the province’s promise to increase the number of paramedics has prompted the addition of a second 24-hour full-time ambulance in Squamish.

“A number of resources have been added in the Sea to Sky Corridor, including a second 24-hour full-time ambulance into Squamish,” he said.

“[However,] we always had two ambulances — one was just a call-out ambulance under [the previous] precarious model,” Clifford said.

COVID surge

Kelly Budway, a paramedic who works in the Sea to Sky, was also present at the meeting.

Budway said that through COVID, a surge resource of one additional 12-hour seven-day ambulance was allocated to Squamish.

But, it did not wind up serving the town as often as some may have hoped.

“[It] was to help with mainly inter-facility transfers in and out of the Corridor that ended up getting sucked into Metro [Vancouver],” she said.

She noted that if one or more ambulances is tied up doing an inter-facility transfer, and there is no immediately available paramedic team in Squamish to respond to an emergency, the next closest team would respond.

That team could be from a farther place like Whistler, she said.

This would add a delay to the response.

And while ambulances get pulled from Squamish to assist in matters happening in Vancouver, it rarely works the other way around, Budway said.

“They never get pushed up from the city,” she said. “So we don’t have that overflow. There is no overflow from many different posts, because they are already overtaxed in that area. So Squamish ends up seeing the brunt of the problem there.”

In a follow-up interview with The Squamish Chief, Clifford said that the 12-hour COVID surge ambulance that Budway was referring to was then taken away, and its hours were allocated to the second ambulance in Squamish.

In short, there are more staffing hours, which now allow for two-full time 24-7 ambulances. This is a good thing, he said. But there aren’t any more ambulances.

“We haven’t kept pace with the growth and increased call volumes for communities like Squamish,” Clifford said.

BC Emergency Health Services investing in the corridor

In response to a request for comment, BC Emergency Health Services said in a written statement that Squamish has two ambulances staffed on a 24-hour basis.

The authority said that this is the result of transitioning a 2020 COVID surge ambulance into a 24-hour ambulance in September 2022.

“Prior to that, the station had one full-time ambulance, a second ambulance that was only staffed on an on-call basis, and a temporary 12-hour “surge” ambulance (Juliet),” reads the statement.

“The current model, with two 24-hour ambulances, provides more full-time coverage hours and more full-time paramedics (from four to 20 full-time paramedics), than was previously available.”

The statement also noted Squamish’s station is currently staffed by 16 regular full-time and four irregular full-time paramedics. There are also 21 on-call staff.

As part of ongoing efforts to improve services in the Sea to Sky Corridor, BC Emergency Health Services said it continues to make investments in the region.

Aside from Squamish, there have also been investments in neighbouring Sea to Sky communities.

As a result, there are now two advanced care paramedics in Whistler.

“This includes new full-time primary care paramedic (PCP) positions dedicated to 911 response to staff another “Alpha” [24-7] ambulance in Whistler, operating from 12 a.m. to 12 p.m.,” reads the statement.

“This also includes a new emergency medical responder (EMR) transfer ambulance for Pemberton, which will be staffed by five full-time EMRs.

These EMR positions are dedicated to inter-facility patient transfers. Similar to other resources, the transfer cars will be centrally dispatched, and specific deployment procedures have been developed to support this important work. Crews will be dispatched by and interact with the Patient Transport Co-ordination Centre (PTCC), and this work will be pre-scheduled around patient appointments.”