A tree lined road late at night. Headlights illuminate the path ahead.

The paramedic situation on Cortes and Quadra Islands

There have been numerous reports of BC ambulances being understaffed recently. According to Prince Rupert Northern View, the Bella Coola ambulance was only in service for 52% of July. Quadra Island volunteer firefighter Marc Doll recently informed Cortes Currents there are times when no paramedics are available on Quadra and ‘any firefighter that currently has a class four license is basically being put on standby because they no longer have the ability to have two people scheduled to keep the ambulance going.’ After receiving a couple of anonymous tips on Cortes Island, Cortes Currents asked BC Emergency Health Services (BCEHS) for an update on the local situation. 

Man in front on headlight – Photo by Eugene Triguba Unsplash

A BCEHS spokesperson named Cindy described the situation on Cortes as very different from Quadra Island. 

“Cortes Island is well staffed with all 4 Scheduled On-call (SOC) positions filled and 3 on call staff.  SOC shifts are 24-hour shifts. Paramedics are at the station from 8am to 4pm, and carry a pager outside those hours,” she said.

The report that a ‘Cortes firefighter’ has driven the ambulance is true, but only because ‘BCEHS has a staff member who also works as a duty officer for the Cortes Island Volunteer Fire Department.’ 

“There have been instances where the staff member was available by pager while on duty for the Fire Department. In those instances, the staff member was paid, as a BCEHS employee, for each time he drove the ambulance.”

Fire Chief David Ives added, “I can confirm that the Cortes Island Fire Department works very closely with BC Ambulance service and intends to further improve this relationship via additional joint training sessions as well as the fire department broadening the types of medical calls we are automatically dispatched to.  This initiative has less to do with BC Ambulance shortfalls – either perceived or real and more to do with the fire departments’ drive to provide an ever-evolving and ever-improving level of service to Cortesians and their guests.”

Cindy confirmed a report that paramedics were brought up from Courtenay when there were no local paramedics available.

“Once in August, the Cortes Island crew timed out.  A Courtenay crew was brought over via water taxi to respond to calls on Cortes.”

She added, “Cortes Island is not facing any significant staffing issues.”

“On Quadra Island, BCEHS has asked for the assistance of Firefighter First Responders to act as drivers at times, and we greatly appreciate their assistance. Between May 1, 2022 and September 6, 2022 our records indicate that the Quadra Fire Department drove an ambulance for BCEHS 17 times.” 

She said that this relationship is not unusual:

“BCEHS has agreements with many fire departments throughout the province. Firefighter first responders can provide basic first aid and emergency health services, such as CPR and defibrillation while paramedics are on route to a medical emergency call. The program is voluntary, and each First Responder partner agency determines which types of medical emergencies they are able to respond to and when.”

According to Doll, ”There are periods of time where there is no one scheduled and there is no ambulance available on Quadra Island.”

Fire Chief Sharon Clandening told the National Observer that there were 6 occasions where there were no paramedics on duty this past summer. 

Cindy admitted that Campbell River paramedics have responded to events when there were no paramedics available on Quadra.

“Currently, there is one projected shift vacancy for the month of September on Quadra Island and we are working hard to fill this shift.”

A little over a week ago, BC Ambulance Paramedics and Dispatchers president, Troy Clifford, told CTV News that they have just reached an agreement with BC Emergency Health Services to expedite hiring over 400 full time positions.

Cindy explained, “Since 2021, BCEHS has added more than 500 new full-time and part-time permanent paramedic positions in rural and remote areas, and at least 125 in urban areas. Nearly all the full-time and about half of the regular part time positions were filled when they were created in 2021. Currently, BCEHS has 75 per cent of ALL its regular permanent full-time and part-time positions filled and is recruiting approximately 25 per cent of these positions in regions throughout BC.”

She asked anyone interested in becoming a paramedic to go to their website. More information is available at bcehs.ca/joinus.

Top photo credit: A rural road at night Photo by Jake Weirick on Unsplash

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