Looking out at the ambulance

SRD against new ambulance service initiative for Rural Areas

The Strathcona Regional District Board is against a new ambulance service initiative that threatens the ability of rural communities like Cortes Island, Sayward, Tahsis and Zeballos to respond when there is an emergency. 

BC Emergency Health Services has sent out a letter stating they intend to create 170 new ambulance service positions across the province. 

What they did not say is they are cutting the pay for paramedics on standby back to $2 an hour. 

Zeballos: on the new ambulance service

Mayor Julie Colborne of Zeballos has written a letter of protest to Adrian Dix, the Minister of Health, informing him that this is not a living wage and wili cause a reduction of services in rural communities where paramedics are on standby more often than responding to calls. 

While this program may work in larger communities, Colborne described the result as catastrophic in Zeballos. They may be losing their unit chief, who has not received word as to whether he still has a job under the new system. 

“Paramedics are making decisions to guard the livelihood of their families. They may be accepting positions elsewhere,” she said. 

If Zeballos cannot find enough paramedics, it will need to call on Port Hardy, which is an hour and a half away, for help. 

“It is paramount for us to stand up for the communities that are even further than us. This is going to do a great deal of damage to communities like Kyuquot Checleset (KCFN). So I have done extensive talking with KCFN, MLA Michele Babchuk, just trying to spread the word that this is not an increase in service,” said Colborne. 

Sayward on the new ambulance service

A paramedic has been coming out from Vancouver to help serve Sayward, but this will not continue now that her wages have been cut back to $2 an hour.  

“We’re going to have half of our shifts not covered. This is going to be a huge problem for Sayward, as it is for Zeballos and other small communities,” said Mayor Mark Baker

Cortes Island on the new ambulance service

Regional Director Noba Anderson said she has been hearing similar stories from ambulance attendants on Cortes Island. 

“We have had a lot of people train up under the existing system . If they are only receiving $2 an hour, they are not going to keep up with their training and they are not going to keep up with the ambulance service. So, as far as I can tell, this is actually a massive reduction in service,” she said.   

“I would like to see some proactive lobby on behalf of our region as a whole, our rural communities as a whole, to the appropriate parties, to see if there is any way of rolling back or having accommodations made for communities this won’t serve.” 

Tahsis on the new ambulance service

“We have the same issues here. We are on the verge of losing service and personally I have never understood how somebody could be paid $2 an hour, which is far below minimum wage. It is going to affect all the small communities,” said Mayor Martin Davis of Tahsis.

The SRD motion

Anderson made, and Davis seconded, the motion that was subsequently passed by the SRD Board, “That the Chair request a meeting with Michele Babchuk, MLA. and the Ministry of Health, including representatives from the affected rural communities of the SRD, to discuss the matter of small community paramedic initiatives.”

Links of Interest:

Photo credits: Looking out at the ambulance by Shawn via Flickr (CC BY SA, 2.0 License); Cortes Fire Department and Ambulance chiefs sitting side by side at an emergency response exercise in 2017 – Roy L Hales photo; The Cortes Island Fire Department/BC Ambulance Centre – Roy L Hales photo

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