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General News · 4th August 2021
CCHA - Jenny
Cortes Community Health Association
PO Box 59, Manson’s Landing,BC V0P1K0
Phone 250-935-6608 Fax 250-935-6721
Charity Number 878973007RR0001

We are writing to express our deep concern about the recent changes to EHS staffing in our community.. We understand that this is part of a larger restructuring of how ambulance stations are staffed and that for many communities this is a significant improvement that will result in better and more stable staffing and shorter wait times. However, for the smaller, often remote stations, this change is potentially devastating.

Over 25 years ago a group of residents joined together as the Cortes Island First Aid and Ambulance Society to develop first aid service in our remote island community. This was accomplished by developing a group of “first aiders” with Industrial First Aid training, then procuring a transport vehicle and lobbying to have the service we provided taken over by the BC Ambulance Service and is currently BCEHS Unit 169. Having completed that transition many years ago we have seen our safety net of emergency response grow from a group of often semi retired individual who were passionate about community safety to having a younger demographic of fully trained and licensed Paramedics who have spent much time and effort in their training and ongoing competency maintenance, and who are also committed to community service.

However, this group of people also need to make a living in conjunction with that community service. In a remote community most employed people have at least 2 jobs in order to make a living . The previous temporary model gave these responders guaranteed full pay for 4 hours of an on call shift with any call out adding another 4 hours of full pay. Most of the current staff were able to work with those numbers and make being a Paramedic part of their employment strategy . Under the new system this means that they now must make a choice between taking other employment or serving their community for $24 a shift and hoping they get a call out. While these Paramedics certainly understood what “temporary” meant in the previous model, they also hoped that it would be clear to decision makers that returning to the previous $2 per hour model would be unworkable and that a better option would be available.

Our station has been allotted one Scheduled on Call staff member. This position also include Unit Chief duties and Community Paramedic duties.

The current schedule for August 2021 has 15 fully staffed 12 hour shifts (2 staff on call). It has 24 shifts that are completely unstaffed. It also has 15 shifts that are staffed with only one person. The remainder are staffed with one person for half the shift. In the past, it has been extremely rare for any shifts to be unstaffed or even understaffed. We are also at the height of our tourist season during which our population expands significantly. This is traditionally a time of higher call volumes and this year we are seeing very large tourist numbers as the border opens and people are moving around more freely.

This not only places our community members and visitors at risk, it puts pressure on other responders to attend calls when they are unsupported and that they are not equipped for. While funding is in place for our firefighters to receive training as First Responders, this has not happened yet due to COVID restrictions, so we do not even have another group of trained responders. Our firefighters only attend medical calls if they are requested for an ambulance assist.

We are concerned about the additional pressure that it will place on our clinic staff in terms of increased acuity and being asked to hold patients awaiting transport.

It potentially also places our Paramedics in ethical dilemmas and moral distress when they are not able to attend or are asked to be a lone responder on a serious call . All of this results in burn out and the risk of losing the trained members that we have in all services.

We ask that decision makers re-think the current model change and make it more equitable and responsive to the needs of small communities.

Yours truly,
Bernice McGowan
Secretary, CCHA

cc Ministry of Health
BC Emergency Health Services
Ambulance Paramedics of BC CUPE local 873
Provincial Health Services Association
Michelle Babchuk, MLA
Noba Anderson, Strathcona Regional Director Cortes Island