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Nearly half of B.C.'s Lower Mainland ambulances were out of service Thursday night, union says


Nearly half of all ambulance vehicles in B.C.'s Lower Mainland were out of service Thursday night due to staff shortages, according to the paramedics' union.

Troy Clifford, president of the Ambulance Paramedics of B.C., said there were 62 ambulances out of service, which equates to about 40 per cent of the fleet. It was also a very busy night.

“At the peak time last night, I think we saw about 92 or 96 calls holding, waiting to be dispatched to ambulances,” Clifford said, adding that there were similar numbers on Saturday night but “that was an unusually extreme night for a Thursday.”

Thankfully, Clifford said, there were no serious issues as a result of the staffing levels, but he added it creates pressure on those who are on shift.

In a statement, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Health said the back-to-back extreme winter storms were creating challenge for everyone, including paramedics.

“The province and B.C. Emergency Health Services are working in cooperation through the BCEHS Emergency Co-ordination Centre to help relocate ambulance crews to respond to shortages caused by weather,” the statement said.

Call numbers typically increase around the holidays, with more calls related to incidents of stroke, cardiac arrest and people who are isolated.

“It's a sad time of the year for some people, and with that comes those increased calls of mental health and addiction,” Clifford said.

This year, there’s also the added challenge of the weather conditions. Clifford said there have been increases in calls related to slips and falls on roads and sidewalks, and road closures can make traveling difficult.

“Whenever you have the bridges and the major arteries blocked, that seriously impacts us if we’re trying to get to a trauma facility,” he said.

Staffing issues for paramedics have been ongoing for months. In October, the union entered into negotiations for a new collective agreement. A temporary deal to boost staffing was soon reached, but talks then broke down. A mediator was brought in last week.

Clifford said both sides will be working over the holidays – sending proposals back and forth – and they will be back at the bargaining table in the first week of January.

“I am definitely happy with the progress we’ve seen and we still have a long way to go, but if we continue down this road, we’ll get a deal and that’ll be good for the citizens of B.C. and paramedics and dispatchers,” he said. Top Stories

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