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Ambulance service changes coming to Haida Gwaii

New staffing model to be implemented in November
BC Emergency Health Services has not announced any new changes for the community of Sandspit. (File photo)

Lack of paramedics in Sandspit is causing community concern after being left without the emergency service for three days from Oct. 15 to 17. This is not the first time the community has been left without their own ambulance service, Evan Putterill, North Coast Regional District director of Moresby Island, said.

Sandspit, a community of 296, is isolated on Moresby Island and hosts one medical clinic, which is closed on weekends and has no hospital.

“It’s not unheard of that there will be times when the ambulance is down. I just know what’s been put out there in the public. So, it’s something people are aware of right now, which is a good thing that people are aware of it,” Putterill told the Haida Gwaii Observer.

Concerned residents took to social media on Oct. 14 to discuss the ongoing situation of service disruptions, with resident Robin Werstine Botel stating residents have experienced and will continue to experience periodic gaps in ambulance services due to having only three staff to cover a year’s worth of around the clock shifts.

“If you’re in need of help, it’s coming from someplace else, and only when they’re available. You will be waiting for an undetermined amount of time,” she said. “[If] you’re thinking you or your children might need a hospital visit, but aren’t sure. Just get on the ferry and go, or have someone take you before the ferry shuts down for the night,” Botel posted on the Sandspit Peeps public group page.

The Northwest Regional Hospital District has reached out to BC Emergency Health Services (BCEHS) for some months and has sent several letters about staffing issues. After not receiving any responses, they took the issue to the minister of health, Adrian Dix, at the Union of BC Municipalities convention, held in September. The response was the district would be receiving more information from BCEHS in November, Putterill said.

In an email to the Haida Gwaii Observer, on Oct. 18, BCEHS said, it is a provincial ambulance service with no municipal boundaries.

“When we have unstaffed ambulances, we have a system in place to send ambulances from the surrounding stations.”

The surrounding stations are Queen Charlotte, Port Clements and Masset. However, these three communities are all located on Graham Island, and accessible via ocean vessels only. The closest community of Queen Charlotte is more than 17 kilometres away, with Masset more than 88 kms.

The ambulance service is transitioning to a new staffing model to address staffing challenges the email stated, and outlined parts of their new model, which will start on Nov. 1.

Putterill hopes this will help the situation. However, there has been no communication about what’s to come, he said.

“We don’t really have a lot of information. They haven’t really done any consultation with local government to let us know exactly what the program will look like. That is something that we have asked for,” Putterill said.

“They are pretty closed-mouth with that information, which is kind of frustrating, right? Because if there’s a high degree of confidence that it’s going to work well, then get out there and talk about it,” he said.

Some of the proposed changes to the emergency health organization and processes will include four paramedics at Port Clements, Sandspit, Queen Charlotte, and Masset as the busiest station offering round-the-clock services.

“This is a first for each of the communities. Current staffing relies on on-call paramedics carrying a pager. The new model will include set regular hours for paramedics at the stations. These new positions are permanent, regular paramedic jobs with employer benefits,” BCEHS stated.

The new staffing model changes will create more consistent emergency coverage and enhanced community services to patient care.

They expect to eliminate their reliance of on-call paramedics, with whom many have to balance other employment alongside their on-call paramedic work. This will allow BCEHS to better attract and retain paramedics to those communities, BCEHS stated.

The ambulance service will still maintain a small pool of casual, on-call paramedic staff in Haida Gwaii to staff ambulances and cover any vacancies, leaves or vacations.

There will also be a part-time paramedic practice educator who works with all four stations on Haida Gwaii to provide clinical support and training to help paramedics advance their skills and education.

 Norman Galimski | Journalist 
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