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Calls to ensure timely emergency response after another Ashcroft resident dies waiting for ambulance


For the second time in recent weeks, a resident in the village of Ashcroft has died while waiting for an ambulance to arrive. The tragedy is leading to calls for more immediate action to ensure timely emergency response in the community and across the province.

Ashcroft Mayor Barbara Roden said a man in the community suffered a cardiac arrest on Sunday, and was found by neighbours.

“They called 911 and were advised that the ambulance ETA was about 35 minutes at that point,” she said, and added volunteer firefighters responded, including the chief, who has first aid training. “One of the people who was there performing CPR said when they looked up between doing compressions, they could see the ambulance station about less than 200 metres away.”

Ultimately, Roden said, it took 29 minutes for the ambulance to arrive. The man did not survive.

Four weeks earlier, a senior died after going into cardiac arrest at a time when the local emergency room was closed due to staffing shortages, and an available ambulance was in another community.

“People are angry, they are saddened, they are frustrated,” Roden said. “No one is faulting individual paramedics or blaming them in any way. It’s a system that is failing residents in communities around the province.”

Roden said she met with B.C. Emergency Health Services following last month’s fatality, and was told the process to get new hires on the job faster was being “streamlined.” She said she had also heard an idea floated about having the community’s volunteer firefighters take medical training.

“That is just, to me, another instance of downloading onto small communities,” she said. “We need to stabilize this, and we need to fix it, because otherwise it’s just going to lead to more hollowing out of rural communities as people leave because they feel they need to be closer to health-care services they can depend on.”


Troy Clifford, provincial president with Ambulance Paramedics of B.C., said while it’s hard to predict the outcome of any individual case, administering a defibrillator and CPR within minutes of a cardiac event gives the “best viable chance for survival.”

“I’d like to tell you that this is isolated to Ashcroft, but it’s not,” he said. “We just don’t have enough paramedics to fill the spots. The system has not been addressing the precarious on-call model.”

Clifford says normally, Ashcroft would have two ambulances: a full-time primary response unit, and a secondary ambulance that relies on on-call, casual staff. However, he said, the second one is rarely staffed anymore, as there are not enough paramedics, and even the primary ambulance is not always staffed.

He added it’s a strain other communities are experiencing as well.

“Kamloops was down to around two ambulances to cover the whole community overnight on Saturday night. It’s in dire straits right now,” he said. “There are solutions that we’ve put forward, but they haven’t come quick enough, and I don’t think they’re being addressed in a timely fashion.”

Clifford said with resources stretched thin, there is also a toll on first responders.

“Paramedics and dispatchers just want to do their job,” he said. “These are all system failures or other influences that affect their well-being.”


The chief ambulance officer for B.C. Emergency Health Services, Leanne Heppell, said her heart goes out to the family who lost a loved one, and added the situation will be reviewed.

Heppell said BCEHS is also "actively" recruiting for paramedics, including nationally and internationally.

“We have actually posted over 500 new permanent positions, both part-time and full-time, and we have about 78 per cent of those positions filled across the province,” she said. “We are wanting to transform the organization and provide these permanent positions, in particular for the rural and remote areas.”

Heppell said the response has been strong, with “about 300” people on the list for interviews, but there are still vacancies.

“Some of the areas there was good uptake right away, but in some of the areas, it’s taking longer to recruit,” she said. “The majority of positions in the Ashcroft area have been filled. We do have some vacancies that the posting has just gone down, and we’re filling.”

Heppell said call volumes have increased across the province since last year and have stayed up. She added the ongoing overdose crisis and pandemic, as well as intense weather events and disasters, have added to the strain on the health-care system.

The call involving the death of the senior last month also led to a review. Roden is awaiting the results.

“I’m really hoping we don’t have to keep doing these reviews,” she said. “No one expects an ambulance to be there in 10 seconds when you have made that call…all they want to know if that when they do phone, when they do need those services, that they will be available in a timely manner to help.” Top Stories

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