B.C. paramedics sound alarm over longer wait times due to staff shortages, burnout
The Ambulance Paramedics and Emergency Dispatchers of B.C. are sounding the alarm — saying that faced with dual health crises, staff shortages, and paramedic burnout, response times for emergency assistance are becoming longer and could affect patient care.
Troy Clifford, the president of the organization, said there were 30 unstaffed ambulances across the Lower Mainland on Friday night due to staffing shortages. The area normally has about 120 ambulances ready to be dispatched.
"Unfortunately, it's not just isolated to this weekend. It's been escalating for some time now. We started seeing these numbers through the fall and recently it's been really escalating," he said, adding that unstaffed ambulances mean that each ambulance must travel further to reach the scene of an emergency.
"We were advised that there were emergency calls that waited for up to an hour, and several hours for non-emergency calls. Lord help us if anyone were to lose a life because of a delayed paramedic."
Clifford said there have long been staffing issues, especially in the Lower Mainland. But he said the COVID-19 pandemic, combined with the ongoing overdose crisis in the province, has exposed the weaknesses in the system and pushed paramedics to the brink.
He said staff are currently working at full capacity, with fewer staff working overtime shifts because of the extreme fatigue.
"It's an ever revolving door because if you're so burned out after a 12-hour shift and you end up not getting off on time and it ends up being a 14-hour shift, by the time you get home you're physically and mentally exhausted," he said.
"We're wearing full PPE on every call which is really exhausting to do that due diligence which we have to do for everybody's sakes."
Clifford said there are around 4,500 paramedics and dispatchers across the province. He said for calls that involve CPR or cardiac arrest, it's critical that paramedics are able to respond immediately.
"We're trying to get the word out, sound the alarm, not to put out the fears that we wouldn't be able to respond. The system's not broken but it definitely needs some attention," he said.
Clifford said he's lobbying B.C. Emergency Health Services (BCEHS) and the provincial health officer to look for long-term and short-term solutions.
BCEHS did not confirm the staffing numbers provided by the union.
But it says it has added ground and air ambulances since the start of the pandemic, as well as more staff to support patient care, and is actively recruiting paramedics.