'It's taking a severe toll': B.C. paramedics, dispatchers facing staffing crisis
On Friday night, 17 ambulances were out of service in the Lower Mainland. The next day, at least 13 units went unused. The reason, according to the paramedics union, there weren't enough paramedics to staff them.
The Ambulance Paramedics and Emergency Dispatchers of BC said the current staffing issues are taking a toll on the workers.
"Paramedics and dispatchers are feeling the strain of it," said union president Cameron Eby. "We think that’s contributing to fatigue, burnout and occupational stress injuries, like PTSD."
The union is sounding the alarm on a "staffing crisis," saying the problem is happening across the province.
Eby said in large cities, there are several vacant full-time positions and in the small and medium-sized communities, there are challenges with recruiting candidates for on-call, casual positions.
"The workload goes through the roof for everybody who's still at work. Ultimately, that will cause more people to have stress or physical injuries, and they'll need more time off and more ambulances will be out of service. It’s taking a severe toll" he said.
People requiring an ambulance may have to wait a little longer.
Eby assures those with critical, life-threatening calls will not be impacted but less urgent calls may wait a little longer for paramedics.
"I'm sure that's very frustrating and quite upsetting because in your moment of need, you want help and you want it to arrive in a prompt fashion."
BC Emergency Health Services said it is working to schedule staff to fill shifts and is filling vacant positions.
"We know paramedics are responding to more calls than ever before, as the result of a growing, aging population in B.C. And the overdose crisis is also taking its toll on our paramedics and dispatchers, and we thank them for their dedication," said senior director Neil Lilley in an e-mail statement.
Lilley said they are working to ensure there are adequate ambulance resources as a part of the BCEHS Action Plan.
"We have also added resources and made changes in our dispatch centres to better match resources to patients. BCEHS is starting to see improvements in service and response times as a result and we continue to expect to see improvements as we carry on with our action plan."
Eby said they are in collective bargaining with BCEHS and the province and have the ability to make some changes.
He said some of the issues are operational and do not need to wait for contract to be signed.
"We have an opportunity to potentially make changes right now."