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IN THE LEDGE – ‘Waiting too long for an ambulance is becoming the norm’

(Image: BC Ambulance Service)

Excerpt from debate in the B.C. Legislature on Wednesday, June 9, 2021 on ambulance response times:

T. Stone: With all due respect to the Minster of Health, when someone is in pain, when they’re desperate for medical attention, they really don’t care in that moment which government did what, when and where. They don’t care about partisan politics. What they do care about is that when they call 911, medical attention is going to arrive in a reasonable period of time to look after them. That is not happening today for every British Columbian, and that’s on this government’s watch.

A couple weeks ago, a welfare check was done on a senior in Vancouver. Police and firefighters discovered that she’d been on her couch in her own waste for several days. Now, obviously, an ambulance was called. After five hours of waiting, a saferide shuttle, which is meant to transport people with drug and alcohol issues, had to be called so the senior could get the assistance that she so desperately needed.

Let’s stop and think about this for a moment. This is a senior who sat in her own waste for several days. Help arrives, but then she’s required to wait another five hours. It’s unacceptable, and it’s unconscionable.

The question to the Premier is this: will the Premier step up? Will he fix this crisis so people like this senior aren’t waiting hours upon hours for the care that they need?

Hon. A. Dix: The member will know that we review every case where there are deficiencies in health services. He will know that this is what inspires us to give ambulance paramedics their full bargaining rights back, inspired us to work with them to increase the number of ambulance paramedics positions — since fall, 283 full-time positions established. It’s for this very reason — to give our ambulance paramedics support on the ground to do the work that we all need them to do.

The member is absolutely right. It’s something that we’ve said consistently. It’s something that the Premier said and I said. At the moment when you need an ambulance, that service is the most important service a government can provide, and it’s important that it’s there. We recognize, when there are extraordinary challenges and events happen, that we have to address those.

I also would say this. The way you address them is year after year providing the resources required, increasing the number of positions, increasing the training, ensuring particularly that the interests of people who live in communities such as the hon. member, but around B.C., get the level of service that they need.

That is what we’re working to do — year after year increase in positions, year after year increase in ambulances — and still there are challenges. All that tells me is that we have to continue to make this effort. I’m committed to do that every single day.

T. Stone: Well, indeed. First responders are saying that the resources that they have are not enough today. Dispatchers are saying they see it every single day. There aren’t enough resources in the system. Of course, British Columbians who have to suffer a horrific experience like this or see their loved one go through this are saying that there are not enough resources in the system. So much more needs to be done.

The West End of Vancouver, to Surrey, to Vancouver Island, to Langley and, indeed, across the province, the delays in being able to get an ambulance in a timely fashion are becoming the norm. The system isn’t working.

Troy Clifford, president of the Ambulance Paramedics of B.C., says that long wait times for people in emergency situations are becoming more common: “We’re seeing that more and more, where people are waiting for ambulances for extended periods of time, and especially in public places like that that can be a real challenge. It really is becoming, sadly, a norm.”

When you’re crying out in pain, when your life is at risk, you don’t want to hear anyone say that this is a blip in the system and that it doesn’t happen that often. It is happening, increasingly, to far too many British Columbians.

Again, to the Premier, will he immediately step up and fix this crisis before the next story is about someone waiting far too long for an ambulance who sadly died?

Hon. A. Dix: I hesitate to even use the term “blip,” because I don’t believe it’s ever come from me. It has only been used by the opposition. I think, given the seriousness of the issues, that that kind of tactic isn’t up to the level of what we should expect in this debate, in this discussion. What we’ve tried to do and what we have done — the increase in the support, the resources for the Ambulance Service, since I’ve been Minister of Health, an average of 7.96 percent  — in fact, two and a half times what it had been in the previous years — is indication of that seriousness.

But there are also extraordinary challenges. We are in the midst of two public health emergencies, and this has qualitatively, not just quantitatively, in terms of the number of calls received by ambulance paramedics, presented extraordinary challenges to ambulance paramedics on the ground.

Our task is (1) to provide them with the support they need to continue to do their work and to recover when they deal with challenges and (2) to provide more cars and more resources. We’re doing that, and we’re continuing to do that. I think that’s the way that as legislators we can respond — by providing the resources necessary. The member say that the resources are insufficient. But they are…. The rate of increase is two and a half times what it was under the level of the previous government. We have to continue to provide this investment because the challenges facing our ambulance system, our first responders, out there are real.

Of course, we think every day, and I know they think at B.C. emergency health services every day, of the people waiting for an ambulance, in critical need, to get to them as soon as possible. That’s what drives us, and that’s what’s going to continue to motivate our efforts to respond to this situation.

Source: BC Hansard

About Mel Rothenburger (8243 Articles)
ArmchairMayor.ca is a forum about Kamloops and the world. It has more than one million views. Mel Rothenburger is the former Editor of The Daily News in Kamloops, B.C. (retiring in 2012), and past mayor of Kamloops (1999-2005). At ArmchairMayor.ca he is the publisher, editor, news editor, city editor, reporter, webmaster, and just about anything else you can think of. He is grateful for the contributions of several local columnists. This blog doesn't require a subscription but gratefully accepts donations to help defray costs.

1 Comment on IN THE LEDGE – ‘Waiting too long for an ambulance is becoming the norm’

  1. Mel Formanski // June 10, 2021 at 11:41 AM // Reply

    I would like to add that this IS the norm these days. I have a son with a long-term medical issue and we have often had to call the ambulance in the past 20 years. The waiting time has increased dramatically. At one point we waited over an hour and a half because they had to call in an ambulance from Vernon as the ones here were all busy. One reason the demand is so high is that folks don’t have doctors so they wait too long during an illness until it becomes an emergency and they need urgent help. Another is the fact that if you go to an emergency room, your wait time to get in is often many, many hours in rooms crowded with very sick people. We clocked 15 hours one time we were there. By the time my son was seen they had to rush him to intensive care where he stayed for over a week. If I had taken him in by ambulance, he would have been seen within a short time frame, treated and he would have most likely been released within a day or two instead of the total 2 weeks he was there. What is happening in the ambulance system is just a symptom of a broken health care system overloaded with bureaucrats and not enough “boots” on the ground”.

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