Lack of full-time jobs affecting Sea to Sky paramedic numbers 

Union says staffing shortage also affecting ambulance service across the province

click to enlarge PHOTO BY JOEL BARDE - emergency response A union representing B.C. paramedics and dispatchers says that a lack of full-time positions at Sea to Sky paramedic stations is leading to high turnover.
  • photo by joel barde
  • emergency response A union representing B.C. paramedics and dispatchers says that a lack of full-time positions at Sea to Sky paramedic stations is leading to high turnover.

the union representing the province's paramedics and dispatchers claims a lack of secure employment in the Sea to Sky corridor is leading to staff shortages.

Sea to Sky ambulance services is having a "harder and harder time (recruiting) enough on-call paramedics to fill their schedules," said Cameron Eby, president of the Ambulance and Paramedics of BC (APBC). If one person gets sick, there is "often no one else to work, so the ambulance gets shut down," he added.

According to a recent press release from the union—which is currently negotiating with the provincial agency that oversees paramedics and dispatchers, BC Emergency Health Services (BCEHS)—on the week of March 11, anywhere between 25 to 40 ambulances on any given night were out of service across the Sea to Sky, Lower Mainland and Fraser Valley.

Most of the issues were in the Metro Vancouver area, but on two occasions Pemberton was down one ambulance, said Eby, adding that staffing is a significant and ongoing issue in the Sea to Sky region.

He contends that the issues could be addressed if BCEHS offered more full-time employment in the Sea to Sky, rather than the mix of full-time and on-call work that is currently offered.

There are two types of on-call shifts: paramedics on "call-out shifts" who wait for calls at home for $2 an hour, and those on "standby shifts," who make $12.33 an hour while waiting at a station, explained Eby.

The lack of employment security is resulting in high rates of employee turnover.

According to the BCEHS, of the 36 paramedics working in Whistler, only four of them have full-time positions.

"It used to be there was a long line of people applying to get into stations like Whistler and Squamish, and that's no longer the case," said Eby.

The situation is also creating challenges when it comes to attracting advance-care paramedics, added Eby.

"(The advanced-care designation) gives the paramedic more life-saving diagnostic skills and interventions, specifically for cardiac and respiratory and trauma situations," he said. "You could be on the ski hill, receiving advance-care paramedic care, and then they transfer you to the ambulance, and the paramedic crew is actually going to be a lower level of care," he said.

But according to Shannon Miller, a spokesperson with the BCEHS, 33 of the 36 paramedics in Whistler are primary-care paramedics, a ratio that is in line with the rest of the province.

Staffing models are "generally based on call volumes and call acuity (nature of the calls)," Miller explained in a statement.

"Since the 1990s, the Sea-to-Sky region has consistently increased and stabilized its staffing to account for growth and trends in medical emergency calls."

Miller also pointed out that the BCEHS's regional deployment model, which allows ambulances to be sent from one community to assist with patients needing care in another, works well for patients.

"This flexibility ensures the most appropriate and closest resources are available at any given time to the patients needing care," she said, noting that the median response times for life-threatening and time-sensitive calls is nine minutes, 46 seconds, which falls within BCEHS's response-time targets.

APBC is also drawing attention to mental health issues related to the work, pointing to a recent survey administered by the Mental Health Commission of Canada. It found that 81 per cent of paramedics and dispatchers in B.C. report they feel that BCEHS does not adequately monitor fatigue and burnout.

Eby believes that finding applies to the corridor. "Although the call volume is not as high in the Sea to Sky, (paramedics) are still seeing horrific car accidents," he noted.

Moreover, because there aren't enough full-time positions, people end up working a bunch of days in a row just to make ends meet, he added.

"They end up working as much as possible," he explained. "So they don't necessarily get the days they need to rest and recover from those situations."

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