The union representing B.C. Ambulance Paramedics says the B.C. Ambulance Service can’t keep up with the deepening fentanyl drug crisis and as a result, other calls are having to wait longer.
President of the Ambulance Paramedics of B.C. Bronwyn Barter says with increasing calls for overdoses, the ambulance service is being stretched even thinner.
She says just last week a couple injured in a car crash in Surrey had to wait three-and-a-half- hours for an ambulance.
“I’m not shocked to hear about these delays, I’m shocked to hear the employer and government aren’t doing anything to address these delays and I’m surprised more people aren’t coming forward.”
Barter says funding announced recently by the government to help paramedics and dispatchers better respond to the fentanyl crisis won’t really make much of a difference.
“The five million dollars that was put towards the crisis, it’s really just scratching the surface of the situation so again we already had a resource issue, an outstanding resource issue where we are 25 resources short.”
Barter also says it’s not uncommon for paramedics to work 16 hours straight because of a staffing shortage, and that fire crews have to wait for an ambulance to arrive, tying them up as well.
“I think it’s spreading the ambulance service and the resources we have the limited resources we have right now even more thin. Wait times are going to be longer.”
Another close call
In addition to this, a child almost lost his leg waiting for an ambulance to show up.
Barter says the youngster had gone ice skating with his class when he fell and severely facturered his leg.
It took an hour and a half for an ambulance to arrive, and according to Barter, one of the moms who was at the rink happened to be a nurse. Otherwise, the outcome could have devastating.
“Another mother had to actually, an ICU nurse, had to hold the child’s leg and maintain a pulse in that leg so that there wouldn’t be an issue with that limb, or lose that limb, and they waited approximately 90 minutes for an ambulance to respond which is unacceptable.”
Barter says the longer a patient is left without intervention the worse the outcome can be.
Provincial Health Services: response times are actually down
Executive Vice-President of the Provincial Health Services Authority says ambulance response times are actually down in Vancouver and Surrey, in spite of the drug crisis.
Linda Lupini says “response time data” up until yesterday shows high acuity, code 3, lights and sirens calls in Surrey are faster when compared with last year.
She says code 2 calls, the more routine ones, have also improved.
“It is correct based on information that we have of calls to date. Now you have to remember, there have been a couple of ambulances added to Surrey, and so that’s obviously really impacted positively the response times in Surrey.”
In Vancouver, Lupini says the high acuity calls are roughly only 11 seconds longer.
“That’s by evidence and data from our system that assigns a code to a call in dispatch and that’s from location data of ambulances, we know exactly when they get to a scene so this is actual data, this is fact,” she says.
Lupini says paramedics work 12 hour shifts and they do not have to work overtime unless they get a life threatening call close to the end of their shift.
Meanwhile, paramedics say it’s not uncommon to be pulling down 16 hour shifts.
NDP calls for more funding for B.C. ambulance service
The NDP is calling on the provincial government to put more money into the ambulance service.
“This government is not putting enough resources into the ambulance services, and that means people are being forced to wait for hours for emergencies because the ambulance service is stretched too thin also trying to deal with the fentanyl crisis,” says Judy Darcy.
Darcy says paramedics were already stretched too thin prior to the fentanyl crisis.
But speaking in Victoria today, the Premier says the province has recently added $5-million to support the work the ambulance service does.
“Especially in the downtown east side where almost half of these issues are arising. So that’s getting folks on bikes. Getting caches of naloxone more readily available. You know there’s been a whole range of things done but, you know, it’s not over.”
Christy Clark says she knows the Surrey area has also been hit hard and that the government is working on making sure ambulance resources are available in all areas of the province.
She says the federal government has taken good steps, but needs to do more to help this crisis that is spreading across the country.