BC increases ambulance services in 60 rural communities

Transformed 911 responsiveness and hospital care for patients as of April 1

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a row of three ambulances parked outside a hospital
PHOTO: Amirul Anirban / The Peak

By: Hannah Fraser, News Writer

On April 1, 60 rural and remote communities in the Vancouver Coastal and Fraser Health regions are working to improve paramedic staffing models for better 911 responsiveness and consistent out-of-hospital care. 

Previously, they worked under the scheduled on-call model, and paramedics carried a pager. They were then required to access the local ambulance station once they received a page. However, many rural communities in the Vancouver Coastal and Fraser Health regions had concerns that this model was not quick enough to respond to 911 calls. 

Mayor Andy Morel of the City of Rossland said the city’s year-round active, outdoor community and population of aging residents required ambulance services that could more readily support their health care needs. So, in more muti-generational communities, the scheduled on-call model could not support the city. 

Given the new staffing models — 24/7 alpha, mix shift, and kilo shift — many communities now have two to three times more paramedics in ambulance stations than the on-call model did. 24/7 alpha involves full-time paramedics on duty 24 hours a day, while mix shift has eight paramedics that work 16 hours in their stations and hours on-call. Some communities have a mix of kilo/on-call shifts, similar to the scheduled on-call model as a full-time unit chief and staff are entirely on-call. 

The Peak corresponded with Bowen Osoko, a spokesperson for BC Emergency Health Services (BCEHS) for more information on the changes. 

According to Osoko, recruiting and filling the new emergency and health roles has been ongoing for several months now. While the BCEHS fills these positions, existing paramedic staff have been filling in extra positions to compensate for the new roles. Osoko notes the backfill “has been successful to date.

“We’re also working hard to connect with local community members who want to join BCEHS and provide excellent pre-hospital care to their neighbours and community.”

Jason Jackson, Ambulance Paramedics of BC president said, “Patient care is the most important thing to us, and this new approach helps us better recruit and retain paramedics to work in these smaller communities, improve how we respond to 911 calls, and most importantly, help paramedics provide better care to our patients.” 

In addition, the BCEHS has brought more Indigenous paramedics onto their team. Indigenous peoples have historically faced injustices in healthcare due to racism, and rural communities away from urban centres make accessing care much harder. Over a third of Indigenous people in BC reside in the north of the province. Tania Dick, the Indigenous nursing lead at UBC, noted that she and other nurses are flown into rural communities to provide aid. However, visits often aren’t made for weeks due to barriers with travel. These communities often depend on external resources from the government and organizations for this basic care. “We’re actively working to bring Indigenous people into all levels of our organization,” Osoko said. “Doing so helps build trust, which helps improve patient care across BC.” 

The Peak reached out to the First Nations Health Authority and the First Nations Health Council for more information, but did not hear a response by the publication date.

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