Kamloops was apparently hours away from having no ambulances in service on Tuesday night (June 7), KTW has learned.
According to a person operating the Facebook page BC EMS Alert, which is run by B.C. paramedics, a 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. shift in the city of nearly 100,000 people was faced with having ambulances not staffed before learning at about 4:30 p.m. of a last-minute staffing addition.
BC Emergency Health Services (BCEHS) was contacted by KTW at 1:46 p.m. regarding the impending shortage, but emails and calls were not returned until 4:29 p.m., when via email a spokesperson said Kamloops on Tuesday night will have a total of four ambulances staffed. A single responder (a single responder is similar to a small van that can be used to transport lower acuity patients) would also be staffed and overnight there will be two ambulances staffed.
According to the BC EMS Alert source, as of Monday night (June 6), just a lone paramedic was scheduled to work those hours, but two are required to operate an ambulance appropriately.
While one paramedic could go out in an ambulance to a call, they wouldn’t be allowed to transport a patient and another ambulance would need to have shown up to take them, the source said.
“They are effectively useless and the one paramedic is allowed to refuse that work as it can be unsafe to respond to calls without a partner. However it is technically allowed,” the source said.
According to the source, had no other paramedics taken the shift, Kamloops was faced with paramedics having to come from nearby rural communities, such as Chase, Sicamous, Barriere or Salmon Arm, to help cover Kamloops on Tuesday night.
BCEHS issued a callout on Monday night for paramedics to work a full or partial shift on Tuesday night, according to a screenshot shared with KTW.
Troy Clifford, president of Ambulance Paramedics of BC, said he learned from his members of Tuesday's paramedic shortage in Kamloops. He described the situation as “disturbing” and “worrisome,” but noted staffing problems are not a new in Kamloops, nor across the province.
Clifford said having no ambulances staffed for a shift in Kamloops was “definitely an extreme,” but pointed out there have been similar shortages in the city for more than a year, in times when just a couple of ambulances were staffed.
He said Kamloops has about eight ambulances staffed during a day shift and four or five at night.
“Every day we’re seeing staffing shortages in Kamloops,” Clifford said.
He added he is not sure what can be done, noting when the situation is left to deteriorate to this level, the usual practice of the ambulance service is to rely on small rural communities to cover Kamloops — an option that assumes those towns have an ambulance to give and leaves those communities depleted of resources.
He said BCEHS has about 300 vacancies across the province this month due to sick leave, vacations and departures.
Clifford said that on any given day, about 50 per cent of the ambulances in the province are not staffed due to the inability of BCEHS to recruit and retain staff.
“That’s primarily due to our precarious work,” Clifford said, noting the current NDP government has made significant investment into the ambulance service, including a full-time ambulance added to Kamloops last year.
“But we haven’t been able to fill those positions around the province and that’s primarily a large part of our problem,” he said. “The other big part is our high mental -health injuries and, like our partners in nursing, we’re seeing a lot of sickness because of the nature of our work both psychologically, but also from COVID and flu-like symptoms.”
Over the Victoria Day long weekend in May, Royal Inland Hospital put out a call for nursing staff to combat ongoing staffing shortages at the tertiary hospital.
The BC EMS Alert source said the paramedic shortage is a frequent occurrence in small towns surrounding Kamloops.
Asked why there was the staff shortage that threatened to leave Kamloops without ambulance service on Tuesday night, the source said the short answer is paramedics are burnt out and tired of not being treated fairly.
The source said paramedics are supposed to be getting overtime for working 12-plus hours as defined by the Employment Standards Act, but added BCEHS has not implemented it. Another issue is an unsustainable staffing model for part-time employees, in which they only get paid $2 per hour and are expected to work 72 to 96 hours straight. Paramedics, the source said, are also paid thousands of dollars less than other first responders, such as firefighters and police officers.
“These issues and more just keep compounding and getting worse. Staff are plagued by PTSD and mental-health problems for working 12 to 16 hours straight, not being paid and irregular shifts/hours,” the source said. “This keeps adding up and paramedics leave for other jobs, so there are less ambulances staffed. And then the crews working get even more overworked and the cycle compounds.”
The BC EMS Alert Facebook page informs B.C. residents when ambulances are out of service, while also advocating for fair paramedic lifestyles and working conditions.
According to BCEHS, the ambulance service recently launched a national recruitment campaign to fill vacancies and to build capacity for the future.
More information about careers at BCEHS is available at bcehs.ca/joinus. The ambulance service said BCEHS added hundreds of new paramedic positions over the last year, which has increased short-term vacancies, but will stabilize its staffing and improve service to British Columbians over the long term.