Two-hour waits for B.C. ambulances amid heatwave: paramedic union

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – The heatwave is pushing B.C. paramedics to new limits, with the weekend seeing two consecutive days of record call volumes. This came at a time where many ambulances sit parked due to staffing levels the union wants its employer to address. Those first responders say the situation could leave you waiting hours for help.

On Monday, B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix said there were 1,833 dispatches on Friday and 1,850 on Saturday.

The previous all-time highs were Jan. 1, 2017, when there were 1,833 dispatches (tied for Friday), and Jan. 1, 2018, when there were 1,819 responses.

There were plenty of calls that took two hours for a response this weekend, confirms Troy Clifford with the Ambulance Paramedics of BC.

“This weekend was another incredible weekend for us … [We were] hitting numbers that are higher than what we’ve seen at the last peak time, which was the Stanley Cup Riot. So that gives you perspective of the amount of additional calls we’re seeing, but that’s on top of what we’re still experiencing,” Clifford said.

E-Comm confirms it was a record-breaking weekend for 911 calls.

“The emergency communications centre responsible for 99% of 911 call-answer in B.C. received close to 8,000 calls on Saturday and more than 7,300 calls on the Sunday. This is a historic increase of approximately 55 per cent compared to a normal weekend in June,” said Jasmine Bradley with E-Comm.

Most of the calls were for ambulance service, with Bradley explaining there were delays in transferring calls to BC Emergency Health Services (BCEHS).

“When a person calls 9-1-1 and requests an ambulance, our 9-1-1 call taker must transfer that call to BCEHS for medical call-taking as E-Comm does not dispatch ambulances. Over the weekend, periods of wait times for callers to reach a 9-1-1 call taker occurred as our staff were tied up trying to transfer calls to BCEHS and were unable to answer the next 9-1-1 call waiting. During these call transfers, our 9-1-1 call taker must stay on the line with the caller until the call is answered by BCEHS,” she said.

To make things even more challenging, Clifford says several of their vehicles are out of service due to staffing levels.

“It’s reported to me, we have 25 to 30 percent of our ambulances, not just in the Lower Mainland, but across the province, out of service,” he said.

Staffing shortages within the ambulance service has been an ongoing issue, meaning many of the emergency vehicles are left parked. Back in March, Clifford told NEWS 1130 there were 32 ambulances out of service in one evening due to staffing. At that time, BC Emergency Health Services admitted about 11 per cent of the vehicles were sidelined on a Saturday in Vancouver.

E-Comm noted there were also “periods of extensive wait times” to answer police non-emergency calls, with some people waiting two hours.

It wasn’t until early Monday morning when the calls started to slow down.

If you do have to call 911 and get a recording, you E-Comm asks you stay on the line and your call will eventually be picked up.

If your issue is not a medical emergency, you should call 811, which is B.C.’s free nurses hotline, for advice.

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According to Clifford, paramedics were already pushed to their limits, even before the heatwave began.

“I was in the Lower Mainland this weekend. I stopped by one of the hospitals — Burnaby General — and just chatted with some crews who were there, clearing and cleaning their car, just to give them some support. Had some really good conversations, but they were just run ragged. They really looked exhausted,” he explained.

Clifford claims when some people hear about the wait times, they will decide not to wait and instead find their own way to the hospital, which is concerning for people in need of urgent help.

With files from Charlie Carey

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