Following the tragic passing of Godfrey Williams, a Skidegate band councillor, B.C. Emergency Health Services (BCEHS) is taking steps to address the shortage of ambulance coverage on Haida Gwaii.
Williams had to wait an hour for an ambulance to arrive after having a heart attack on Aug. 2 and passed away shortly after. The closest ambulance station was approximately 10 minutes away, however the only person on call wasn’t trained to drive the ambulance, so Sandspit’s station responded to the call instead.
“Accessibility to ambulance services in remote communities can be a challenge and B.C. Emergency Health Services (BCEHS) is committed to working with community partners to improve service levels on Haida Gwaii,” said Kelsie Carwithen, manager of media relations for BCEHS.
Since the tragedy, a full-time on-island paramedic unit chief based in the Village of Queen Charlotte was hired. Carwithen said the unit chief will work to fill shifts, recruit new staff and support Haida Gwaii paramedics.
There are currently 36 paramedics staffed at Haida Gwaii’s four ambulance stations, but prior to last month’s hire there had been no full-time paramedics on-island. Under the current system, rural and remote community ambulances are staffed primarily by trained volunteers who are scheduled to carry a pager or be on standby in the ambulance station when available. These “community first responders” are paid $2 per hour when they are on call.
The BCEHS is also establishing a working group to get a local perspective on how ambulance service levels on Haida Gwaii could be improved.
The group will consist of on-island paramedics and community leaders, as well as representatives from Northern Health, health care providers, the Ambulance Paramedics of B.C. union, and more. Among those included in the working group are Old Massett fire chief Peter White, Skidegate fire chief Kyle Marshall, Queen Charlotte chief administrative officer Peter Weeber, health services administrator Sheila Gordon-Payne, and Dr. Tracy Morton.
Input from the group will help to form a provincial working group so that new models can be developed.
“BCEHS is currently working to identify pilot projects for community paramedicine in rural and remote communities across B.C., including Haida Gwaii. A community paramedicine program may provide primary health care services and also be available to respond to 911 calls,” said Carwithen.
Furthermore, the BCEHS has committed to sharing information on ambulance service levels with Northern Health and communities on the island on a weekly basis and the B.C. Ministry of Health has committed to add another 80 full-time equivalent paramedics positions throughout the province over the next five years.