Anger over BCEHS' handling of heat wave grows as petition circulates online
VANCOUVER -- A petition calling for the firing of a member of B.C. Emergency Health Service’s senior leadership has collected thousands of signatures.
As of Monday evening, more than 6,400 people had signed the petition, which is addressed the B.C. Ministry of Health. The anonymous petitioner, who claims to be an ambulance paramedic, is demanding Darlene MacKinnon be ousted from her position as the BCEHS’ Chief Operating Officer.
“It is indicative of how desperate and frustrated our members are,” says Troy Clifford, president of CUPE 873, the union representing B.C. ambulance dispatchers and paramedics.
The BCEHS has been criticized for its handling of the unprecedented heat wave that hit B.C. in late June. The service did not activate its internal state of emergency (which comes in the form of activating an emergency operations centre) until after the peak of the extreme heat. In addition, ambulance wait times were reported to be hours-long in some cases, which is believed to be a contributing factor to a spike in sudden deaths across the province.
Clifford says the thousands of signatures the petition has garnered is reflective of a growing distrust of ambulance service in the province, and not just amongst the public.
“Our public safety partners – police and fire – and others are questioning us. Our healthcare partners are questioning the organization’s ability to be accountable and respond.”
Darlene MacKinnon was not available for an interview with CTV News, but the BCEHS confirms it has seen the petition online.
“We are aware of it and are disappointed at the personal attack it represents,” says Lesley Pritchard, spokesperson for the BCEHS. “The petition is aimed at one of our employees, an individual who has served for close to 30 years as a nurse, operations leader and dedicated public servant.”
In an emailed statement, Pritchard goes on to say the heat wave in combination with the COVID-19 pandemic and ongoing overdose crisis was mentally and physically exhausting for everyone working at the service and made providing adequate service challenging.
“We will be conducting a review of recent events and learning from this experience and anticipate continuing to work with our union partner CUPE 873, on opportunities to further improve service for those who need us most.”
However, Clifford tells CTV News that the union’s recent talks with BCEHS management have been unproductive thus far. But, over the weekend, he spoke directly with B.C.’s Health Minister and the Provincial Health Services Authority.
“We met with Minister Dix and I raised my concerns,” says Clifford. “They’re working very closely with us to address our concerns, our members’ concerns, and more importantly the impact on patient care and the public.”
Clifford acknowledges ongoing staffing issues will not be solved overnight, but he feels there are procedural changes to be made that would improve the service’s response to crises. In addition, Clifford says there needs to be improved access to mental health support services for first responders, who struggled under the added stress of heat-wave-related emergency calls.
“We had some significant challenges with health and psychological injuries and access to our critical incident stress program, particularly for our dispatchers, but also our paramedics on the street.”