Ten Metro Vancouver Mayors are asking the province to expand the the range of medical emergencies that firefighters are dispatched to in order to help address paramedic shortages amid the COVID-19 pandemic and opioid crisis.
In a March 10 letter to Health Minister Adrian Dix, the mayors of Delta, White Rock, Langley City, Pitt Meadows, Port Coquitlam, the City of North Vancouver, Richmond, Burnaby, Belcarra and Anmore urged the province to work with local governments to “maximize our resources” and meet emergency medical needs in the province.
“With staffing shortages impacting response times for the BC Ambulance Service, we want to work with the province to ensure public safety and that those most vulnerable and in desperate need of our services have access to it in a timely fashion,” Delta Mayor George Harvie said in a press release.
“We are currently dealing with the dual crises of COVID-19 and the opioid crisis and all we’re asking for is the opportunity to provide effective services for our communities.”
The mayors’ letter noted that many municipal fire departments have implemented emergency medical response protocols, whereby firefighters are trained and licensed to administer an enhanced level of emergency medical care to patients, and cited a recent incident where firefighters were able to respond to a suspected drug overdose within four minutes of receiving the 911 call, while paramedics took 50 minutes to arrive on scene.
The letter also cited a 2019 auditor general report saying better co-ordination and collaboration between provincial and local governments is needed to capitalize on the pool of trained and licensed emergency response personnel to provide critical support for patients until an ambulance arrives, and that improved co-ordination of response would support improvements to patient care.
The mayors’ letter follows a night last month where un-staffed ambulances — 30 of 120 in the region — coupled with higher-than-average call volume and a general increase in calls relating to the opioid crisis and COVID-19 led to wait times of up to an hour, prompting the union representing paramedics and emergency dispatchers in B.C. to go public with the issue.
Ambulance Paramedics of British Columbia president Troy Clifford told Black Press Media earlier this month that recent staffing shortages in Metro Vancouver are some of the worst he has seen in his 33 years in the profession.
“It’s been really tough on the paramedics, and ultimately the patients,” he said.
Clifford said the job is difficult on its own, but the addition of staffing issues, the COVID-19 pandemic and the opioid crisis, has resulted in a perfect storm of pressure on these essential front-line medical workers.
“They’re fatigued and exhausted,” he said.
“We know this profession is tough, and there are risks and impacts on our well-being and mental health, but when you add all the additional pressures over and above our regular work, it impacts our ability to respond.”
— with files from Zoe Ducklow, Local Journalism Initiative reporter, and Ronan O’Doherty, Black Press Media