Does this enhance rural emergency ambulance services?
According to the letter which Darlene MacKinnon, Chief Operating Officer of BC Emergency Health Services, sent the SRD, they are creating 170 regular positions across the province. This includes regular part-time Scheduled On-Call (SOC) unit chief positions at every rural and remote station in BC that does not currently have a regular unit chief.
While this new enhanced emergency ambulance services model helps some paramedics, Mayor Julie Colborne of Zeballos believes that the remainder will receive less pay. She wrote Adrian Dix, BC’s Minister of Health, that:
“I see this move as a catastrophic collapse of a service. We are still in the thick of a global pandemic and are trying to see to the healthcare needs of our residents, the area, and the visitors who are seeking a break from urban locales. Help us do just that by finding a model that works for all the service users.”
A living wage
Paramedics are on standby for 12 hour shifts, during which time they cannot do anything that might hamper their response should a call come. They couldn’t leave the area; or be the only one looking after a child; or drink at a party – or even be a designated driver because you might have to leave everyone!
Under the previous plan (a KILO guarantee), paramedics were guaranteed four hours pay during each 12 hour shift.
This has been eliminated. Instead, they will receive $2 an hour standby pay unless called out.
“This project may be working in larger places but is not sufficient for a remote community such as ours,” writes Coulbourne.
The problem, in remote communities like Cortes Island and Zeballos, is that paramedics spend more of their shifts waiting than responding to callouts. Consequently, they will now be receiving $24 for most of their 12 hour shifts.
This is not a living wage and Mayor Colborne predicts some of her community’s paramedics will seek employment elsewhere.
Prior to the introduction of the KILO guarantee, in 2017, Cortes Island ambulance needed to recruit new personnel every year. This turnover stopped after the KILO guarantee was introduced and paramedics received a real wage. Most crew members have sought additional training and the overall effectiveness of the ambulance service increased.
What will the elimination of the KILO guarantee mean for Cortes Island’s Ambulance Service?
Will paramedics continue to devote as many hours to public service if they have to seek employment elsewhere?
Who will fill the gap if there is an emergency and no available paramedics?
Mayor Colborne is concerned that some emergency patients in Zeballos may be forced to wait for ambulances to make the two hour drive out from the city of Port Hardy.
There are occasions, on Cortes Island, when patients have been flown to Campbell River or even the Vancouver General Hospital, but this is not an alternative to a local ambulance service. Even on those rare occasions, paramedics responded to the immediate call, gave interim medical care and transported patients to the helicopter.
BC Emergency Health Services has been queried, but did not respond in time to be included in this story.
Links of Interest:
- (SRD) Concern for the sustainability of BC Ambulance services in the Zeballos area
- (SRD) Scheduled On-Call (SOC) – Vancouver Island / Gulf Islands Prototype
- (Castanet) Paramedics down to $2/hr
- (Nelson Star) Auditor’s report points to gaps in ambulance service for rural B.C.
- (Trail Times) B.C.’s rural, remote regions bear lion’s share of gaps in ambulance services: report
- (Victoria News) B.C. communities call for changes to ambulance response priorities
- (BCEHS) 2017 Action Plan update introducing the KILO guarantee
Top photo credit: There have been occasions when the Cortes Island Ambulance Service has had to fly people down to the Vancouver General Hospital – photo by James Heilman via Wikipedia (CC BY SA, 4.0 License)
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