Long wait times for ambulances not unusual, paramedics union says
Just days after a man who was paralyzed when a blood vessel burst in his vertebrae had to wait nearly 40 minutes for an ambulance, the paramedics union is speaking out – and says this type of story is not unusual.
Andrew Cho, a former professional mountain biker, collapsed in his home on Jan. 6. The 29-year-old had been experiencing neck stiffness and loss of warmth in his hands, but was suddenly unable to move from the neck down.
"It was probably the scariest moment of my life," he told CTV News two weeks after the incident.
When he collapsed, his phone landed just 10 inches away from his body, and he was able to drag his body to it using only his chin. It took him a few tries, but he was able to use his tongue and Siri, a voice-activated feature on his iPhone, to place a call to 911.
Cho lives just blocks from St. Paul's Hospital, but was told that higher priority calls would take precedence.
"I'm not sure exactly why my call was de-prioritized, but it did end up taking closer to 40 minutes for an ambulance to arrive," he said.
On Friday, the BC Emergency Health Services said external factors played a role that day.
"Our sympathies really go out to this patient," said Joe Acker, director of patient care delivery for B.C. Emergency Health Services, adding there was a "super high volume of calls" placed that day due to a spike in the flu and poor weather conditions.
But now the Ambulance Paramedics Association is disputing that narrative. Union Vice-President David Deines, also a practicing paramedic, told CTV News Cho’s case is not unique.
“Delayed responses are a daily occurrence now, and that's not just in Vancouver. It's right across the province,” said Deines, noting this is due to a dire lack of resources.
“If you don't have enough ambulances to respond to those calls, patients are going to be hurt. “
In a letter to its employer last May, the union said BC Ambulance is “still under-staffed and under-resourced, resulting in the service being unable to meet the needs of patients.”
The Ministry of Health says it’s added 98 ambulances province-wide in the past 15 years, including 10 throughout the Lower Mainland in 2016.
"We know it is stressful waiting for an ambulance and we aim to get to patients as soon as we can," said the Ministry in an email to CTV News.
"Our goal is to make sure we have the best, most responsive pre-hospital care possible. BC Emergency Health Services (BCEHS) responds to all 911 calls as quickly as possible and prioritizes those which are life threatening and urgent."
An inquiry has been launched into Cho’s case, and his 911 call. He has since regained some movement, and friends and well-wishers have raised more than $102,800 to help cover his expenses while he's receiving care at G. F. Strong Rehab Centre.
"I can lift up my right leg and I can touch my head as of yesterday… The left side is slow to come, but I just want my life back," Cho said.
With files from CTV Vancouver’s Sarah MacDonald