Health Minister Adrian Dix has announced the province will fund 85 new full-time paramedic positions, 30 new full-time dispatchers and 22 extra ambulances in response to a spike in calls to 9-1-1.
The announcement on Wednesday (July 14) comes in the wake of reports during the recent record heat wave, notably in the Lower Mainland, of hours-long waits for ambulances.
B.C. Emergency Health Service is also converting 22 rural ambulance stations to round-the-clock operation, with plans for an additional 16 stations, six of which are expected to be open by October.
In addition, Health Minister Adrian Dix is reconstituting the BC Emergency Health Services board of directors to focus solely on ambulance services. It will be directly accountable to the minister of health with a clear mandate to ensure better service for patients and families who rely on the services and better supports for workers who deliver the service.
Dix has appointed former Vancouver Police chief Jim Chu to chair the board.
Darren Entwistle, president and CEO of Telus, will serve as a special adviser to the board.
As well, Dix has directed that BC Emergency Health Services now be led by a chief ambulance officer responsible for the day-to-day management of the BC Ambulance Service.
Dix has appointed Leanne Heppell to serve as B.C.'s new chief ambulance officer on an interim basis. She is a trained clinical nurse specialist, currently serving as chief operating officer for acute care and chief of professional practice and nursing at Providence Health Care. Heppell has 20 years of experience in senior leadership at Vancouver Coastal Health, Fraser Health and the BC Ambulance Service.
To get paramedics and ambulances back on the road to respond to patient calls more quickly, the province is directing health authorities like Interior Health to add additional staff to receive patients and care for them when they arrive at hospital emergency departments.
BC Emergency Health Services will also contract a team of mental-health and wellness professionals to work directly with dispatch staff and paramedics to address chronic stress, fatigue and support wellness among staff, including access to trauma-informed therapy.
As part of the changes, the province will return to the pre-COVID-19 first-responder dispatching practices for 911, with the Emergency Medical Assistants Management Licensing Board to examine expanding firefighters' scope of practice. The deadline for recommendations is Sept. 6.