The Vancouver Sun News Article

Anger grows over B.C. Emergency Health Services’ handling of heat wave that left hundreds dead

BCEHS management’s decision to open its 24/7 Emergency Coordination Centre on the day the heat wave ended is one of several criticisms

An online petition is seeking the ouster of the head of B.C. Emergency Health Services over the agency’s handling of the heat wave crisis in Metro Vancouver last week that left up to 500 people dead.

That is almost one third of the number of people in B.C. who have died from COVID-19 in the past 15 months and hit mostly the same demographic — seniors with existing health conditions in the Vancouver Coastal Health and Fraser Health regions.

The petition on had been signed by 4,400 people by Sunday evening.

The petition claims that the agency responsible for ambulances in B.C. knew several days in advance that an unprecedented heat dome was going to establish itself over Metro Vancouver yet no adjustments were made to staffing or in dispatch.

It wasn’t until Tuesday, the day the heat wave ended, that B.C. Emergency Health Services opened its emergency co-ordination centre, according to internal memos sent to front line workers and seen by Postmedia News. And it wasn’t until two days later, Canada Day, that paramedics were offered overtime shifts.

Paramedics were also told Tuesday that they would be able to wear navy T-shirts on shift and would be allowed to carry a water bottle.

Paramedics belong to the Ambulance Paramedics of B.C. Union Local 873 and according to its collective agreement mandatory overtime is permitted during unusual emergencies.

The shocking depth of B.C.’s unprecedented heat wave was revealed last Wednesday when the province’s chief coroner reported that hundreds of people had died suddenly over the past five days — and those that had succumbed to the heat were mostly seniors found alone in oven-like homes.

Two days later, Lisa LaPointe updated the tally, stating there were 719 unexpected deaths reported to her agency between June 25 and Canada Day — almost 500 more than usual with almost all attributed to the heat.

There were reports of people in distress waiting several hours before an ambulance arrived. Sometimes, when paramedics finally arrived, the caller was dead.

Union president Troy Clifford told Global News that the union was embarrassed by BCEHS leadership and had a meeting scheduled with Health Minister Adrian Dix to discuss staffing shortages and to address archaic rules like that in which rural paramedics are paid $2 an hour when they are on shift and only get paid a full wage when they are on a call.

In a prepared statement, the Ministry of Health said it had invested “massively” in the ambulance service, increasing the BCEHS budget from $424 million in 2017 to $560 million in 2020.

It said June 28 was the busiest day in the history of the service, with 1,975 ambulance dispatches.

The BCEHS did not provide comment by deadline.