The union representing paramedics in B.C. is concerned that the region’s only ground-based critical-care ambulance is being moved from Abbotsford to Vancouver International Airport (YVR).
Troy Clifford, president of the Ambulance Paramedics and Emergency Dispatchers of BC (CUPE local 873), said the move will jeopardize the safety of patients.
But the employer, BC Emergency Health Services (BCEHS), says the relocation is necessary because the ambulance wasn’t being as well-utilized in the Fraser Valley as it could be in Vancouver.
The specialized ambulance – which has served an area from Langley to Boston Bar and Manning Park for about the last five years – is scheduled to move to the south terminal of YVR on May 11.
Clifford said the ambulance is like an intensive-care unit on wheels. It is used for transporting acutely or critically ill and injured people to hospitals when an air ambulance cannot be used – for example, due to poor weather conditions or an inadequate place to land.
The ambulance transports people both from the field – such as at a serious car crash – or from one hospital to another that is better equipped to treat them. This could include a trauma centre, such as Royal Columbian Hospital in New Westminster.
Clifford said many of these patients have included those with COVID-19.
The critical-care paramedics have the highest level of training available in the field, with approximately six years of education. There are four assigned to the Abbotsford crew, which covers a 12-hour day shift every day of the week.
Without them, a regular ambulance crew might have to be accompanied by a physician, a registered nurse and/or a respiratory therapist, which impacts hospital staffing that is critically needed, Clifford said.
He said Abbotsford was chosen as the base for the ground critical-care ambulance a few years ago because of its central location to hospitals in the Fraser Valley and its high population base.
But he fears that having the unit based in Vancouver could have serious consequences because it cannot respond in a timely manner to rural locations in the Fraser Valley.
“Simply put, patient outcomes will be affected and patients may die,” Clifford wrote in a letter to BCEHS.
Shannon Miller, BCEHS communications officer, said the placement of the critical care unit in Abbotsford was never intended to be permanent, and it is now being returned to its “home station” at YVR.
She said the decision to move the unit was based on on-call demand.
“Careful monitoring of this unit indicated it had a significantly lower level of calls compared to similar units across the province. This included some days with no calls at all,” Miller stated in an email.
She said the unit will continue to provide acute-patient care across the Lower Mainland – in coordination with air ambulances – and will respond to calls across municipalities as they are needed.
“The is an operational decision by BCEHS that will provide better care and response to critically ill and injured patients across B.C.,” Miller said.