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Union: Staffing shortages affect ambulance service levels across B.C.

The Ambulance Paramedics and Emergency Dispatchers of BC (APBC) are raising concerns over staffing shortages affecting service levels across the Province.

While recruitment and retention in many communities has been an ongoing challenge for BC Emergency Health Services (BCEHS) for some time, the staffing shortage has reached unprecedented levels.  APBC has heard from paramedics about recent out of service levels that are unacceptable and potentially harmful. 

Last week paramedics reported that during the night shift, anywhere from 25 to 40 paramedic units were out of service at any given time across the Sea to Sky, Lower Mainland and Fraser Valley areas. This represents 30 to 49 percent of total paramedic units available in those areas.  These out of service levels are a particular concern following the recent release of the Auditor General report that found that ambulances were only meeting response time targets for the most serious emergencies in urban centers 50 percent of the time.

B.C. paramedics experience some of the highest paramedic workloads in Canada.  Many ambulances in urban and metro areas are still working at higher rates than the standard recognized by the organization twenty years ago. In fact, a recent survey administered to paramedic organizations across the country by the Mental Health Commission of Canada found that 81 percent of paramedics and dispatchers in B.C. report they feel that BCEHS does not monitor compassion fatigue and burnout, while the majority feel they do not have an appropriate balance of call volume to recovery time.

“Current workloads in many areas of our province are unsustainable, and we see this reflected in our out of service rates.  Overtime has become the rule, not the exception, for maintaining staffing levels.  This is simply unsustainable and puts the paramedics and the services they provide at risk,” says Eby.

He notes that BCEHS has been using short-term solutions like vacation overtime and has approved travel expenses for out of town paramedics to work overtime in the Lower Mainland – solutions that do not contribute to a reliable future for B.C.’s ambulance service.

“By our calculations, a recent hire of paramedics into Vancouver by BCEHS will still leave positions vacant, and that is without taking into consideration the standard rate of attrition due to retirement and other job movements”.

APBC’s concerns extend beyond the GVRD as they received similar reports throughout different regions, with both the Okanagan and Kootenay areas experiencing significant out of service rates this past week as well as the three ambulance dispatch centers located throughout the province.