enhanced emergency ambulance services

Enhanced Emergency Ambulance Services? Or Catastrophic Collapse of a Service?

There may be more to the enhanced emergency ambulance services being brought to rural communities like Cortes Island and Zeballos than meets the eye. 

Photo credit: Catastrophic accident by Sergei F via Flickr (CC BY SA,2.0 License)

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.”

will enhanced emergency ambulance services be enough for Cortes Island?
Smelt Bay on Cortes Island by Djun Kim via Flickr (CC BY SA, 2.0 License)

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.   

will enhanced emergency ambulance services be enough for Zabellos?
The scenic village of Zeballos by David Stanley via Flickr (CC BY SA< 2.0 License)

Potential consequences

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:

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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4 thoughts on “Enhanced Emergency Ambulance Services? Or Catastrophic Collapse of a Service?”

  1. On Cortes Island, there is also a synergy between the volunteer fire department and the ambulance crew. If ambulance crew are not available to respond then I’d imagine the fire department would be paged out more to deliver first aid, of course not at the level of the paramedics. That is going to put more strain on the fire department. Not only that but when the fire department responds to a fire, the ambulance crew is also paged out to support the fire team, to monitor their condition and watch for signs of stress and over exertion (some of our fire crew are getting a little elderly). I think that if we compromise the ambulance service on the island, the fire department will also be affected.

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