Staffing shortages left Maple Ridge with zero ambulances Saturday morning

Staffing shortages at the B.C. Ambulance Service left the city of Maple Ridge with no ambulances to answer emergency calls Saturday morning, according to the union that represents paramedics.

The Ambulance Paramedics of B.C. wrote in a post published on Facebook that they were “sounding the alarm” about the number of unstaffed ambulances across Metro Vancouver and the Lower Mainland.

“ZERO ambulance (sic) staffed in Maple Ridge today,” according to the post.

“You’re not going to expect to have a full time ambulance on your doorstep in some remote location,” said Troy Clifford, president of the Ambulance Paramedics of B.C. “But you do expect it in urban and larger rural communities.”

Clifford said the province hasn’t expanded paramedic care to add the additional stations needed to match population growth in the region.

“The Fraser Valley is a particularly hard-hit spot” with respect to staffing he said. “But it’s all over the province.”

Ambulances are based in most Metro Vancouver and Fraser Valley cities and they are frequently dispatched across municipal boundaries.

“B.C. Emergency Health Services (BCEHS) sends the closest available ambulance to 911 medical emergencies,” Andrea Visscher, a communications officer with the Provincial Health Services Authority, wrote in an email.

“When we have ambulances out of service, we can dispatch ambulances from surrounding areas.”

Clifford acknowledged that BCEHS have “moved ambulances all around.”

“But when you’re so short staffed all over the area, you don’t have a lot of resources to move around,” he said.

Clifford said there was a “huge disparity” between the wages and benefits offered to paramedics compared to other professions like police officers, firefighters and health care professionals, which has affected the ability to attract new staff.

“We’re not competitive regarding wages and benefits and that’s hurting our ability to recruit,” Clifford said.

E-Comm, B.C.’s emergency communications centre, predicted this year would see a 12 per cent increase in all 911 calls (including police, fire and ambulance), compared to 2021.

“We’re seeing some of the highest emergency call volumes we’ve experienced in our 23 years of service,” E-Comm spokeswoman Jasmine Bradley said in June.

Increased call volume and years of not keeping pace with demand and demographics have left B.C.’s paramedics in a “dire” situation, Clifford said.

The situation is the latest sign of stress in the BCEHS, which has been under fire since the deadly heat wave last July that left more than 600 British Columbians dead, many who spent hours waiting for ambulances.

Health Minister Adrian Dix shook up senior management at the BCEHS last summer and reinforced the service with more money to hire 85 new full-time paramedics and put 22 new ambulances into service.

Visscher said the public can help by only calling 911 for emergencies and by calling 811 for 24/7 general health advice or to speak with a registered nurse.