A substantial number of paramedic positions are vacant in the northwest, challenging the ability of the provincial ambulance service to provide coverage, a frank discussion between locally-elected officials and senior ambulance officials has revealed.
And in some communities vacancies are being covered by other communities who themselves have shortages, indicates a Jan. 21 report of a meeting between directors of the North West Regional Hospital District and BC Emergency Health Services officials.
“Hazelton has five of eight [positions filled]. Kitwanga has zero of four. Hazelton ends up covering Kitwanga from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. but this leaves Hazelton without coverage if the other ambulance is doing a transfer to Terrace or Smithers. Kitwanga has no coverage at night and Hazelton responds from 45 minutes away,” the report reads.
Similar challenges were reported at Sandspit on Haida Gwaii which was down to just one paramedic in January, a situation at times resulting in that paramedic having to find people to drive for him.
Providing housing for a new paramedics coming into Sandspit was also identified as a problem.
The report provided encouraging news arising from the decision of more than a year ago now to increase the number of paramedic positions in smaller and more remote communities.
Those positions, the equivalent of a .75 full time equivalent employee, come with benefits and replace what had been posts, long criticized, of paying just $2 an hour when people were on-call.
“This the single biggest [staffing] model change to occur and a national recruitment campaign is underway to fill the newly-created positions,” the report reads.
But because paramedics are unionized, those already in the north have the ability through contract provisions to move elsewhere where other new positions need to be filled.
“Existing unit chiefs needed to first be able to bid on these new positions. Proper selection processes had to be followed. This did not change the staffing numbers for many communities. We still have a problem to fill new positions,” the report continues.
And even though communities now have equivalent permanent positions available, comparisons and differences were pointed out as problematic.
“The one size fits all model doesn’t work,” the report on one facet of the discussion indicated. “It is hard to recruit to Terrace much less Dease Lake and Sandpit.”
“Dease Lake is surrounded with high-paying jobs. Individuals are not willing to move to Dease Lake to make the same pay as Terrace.”
In addition to advertising across the country in search of already-trained paramedics, BC Emergency Health Services is preparing to finance an entry-level training program in Prince Rupert.
Details of that program through the Hecate Strait Development Employment Society are scarce as to class size and when it will start, but those who do graduate will come out with an emergency medical responder status, the first level of six within the paramedic training ranking.
Those accepted will have their costs covered by the ambulance service.
There’s also a training program underway in the Nass Valley through the Nisga’a Valley Health Authority that’s independent of the provincial ambulance service.