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Haida Gwaii to join rural paramedics pilot project

A new kind of paramedic may soon be working in Haida Gwaii.
(File photo)

A new kind of paramedic may soon be working in Haida Gwaii.

Until now, B.C. paramedics with advanced-care training only worked in major cities, where they focus on the most life-threatening calls.

But here and in five other rural areas, BC Emergency Health Services will try and put that extra training to another use — better serving patients for non-urgent care at home and in the community at large.

“It’s a new role for us,” says Nancy Kotani, executive director of BC EHS.

The agency is now recruiting for a full-time, advanced-care community paramedic based in Queen Charlotte. Similar jobs are now available in places such as Saltspring Island and Fort St. John.

Aside from preparing patients for emergency trips to hospital or flights off-island, an advanced-care paramedic can, for example, deliver pain medications that help palliative patients stay in their own homes.

Like the part-time community paramedic who is now based in Masset, the new position also means working closely with existing healthcare clinics to prevent disease, promote healthy living, and keep up skills such as CPR training.

Recruiting for the new job started Jan. 4, and BC EHS is still looking to hire a part-time community paramedic in south-end Haida Gwaii just like the one who was hired in Masset last year.

“We’ve had difficulty staffing that one,” Kotani said. “Maybe with the idea that we’re able to bring an advanced-care paramedic in, there might be some renewed interest in somebody coming to fill that half-time position as well.”

Having regular full-time and part-time paramedics is a new thing for the islands, which have traditionally relied on a roster of on-call responders.

Kotani said the service has come a long way since 2014, when she was part of a working group formed after the tragic death of Godfrey Williams Jr., who had to wait a full hour before an ambulance could cross over to Skidegate from Moresby Island.

Along with the community paramedics, Kotani commended local village leaders for advocating change, and also local volunteers like the Skidegate Volunteer Fire Department for signing up as emergency responders.

“That’s the kind of partnership that makes the difference for communities,” Kotani said. “We’re really happy to see those things come together.”

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