New paramedics fill gaps on Haida Gwaii

  • Aug. 25, 2014 6:00 p.m.

BC Emergency Health Services has hired two new paramedics to fill the gaps in Haida Gwaii’s ambulance service until a longer-term solution is found, says executive vice-president Linda Lupini. Ms Lupini said the first paramedic has 23 years experience with BC Ambulance. He arrived on Haida Gwaii a week ago, on Aug. 14, and is working out of the ambulance stations in Queen Charlotte, Port Clements and Masset. He will be managing shift schedules and filling in where there are gaps in coverage. “He’s going to make sure we do a better job,” Ms Lupini said. “He will stay until we can get a working group to come up with some recommendations.” He will also be available to mentor existing paramedics and talk to people who might be interested in becoming a paramedic. “We’re hoping he can make a big impact,” Ms Lupini said. “I heard on Friday he had already recruited two people.” The second hire is Ross Hayes, a paramedic who has worked in Masset previously and has been off-island for advanced training, she said. He is also available to fill shifts where there are shortages. The hirings come in response to the death of Skidegate band councillor Godfrey Williams Jr., who died Aug. 2 after waiting an hour for an ambulance to come from Sandspit rather than Queen Charlotte due to staff shortages. Community leaders on Haida Gwaii have long been warning that the local ambulance stations sometimes don’t have enough paramedics available, and that it has become increasingly difficult to find people willing to undergo the extensive training required when it is impossible to make a living as a paramedic in a remote community. BC Emergency Health Services is also putting together a working group to make recommendations about how the ambulance service here can be improved. The group includes Queen Charlotte physician Tracy Morton, local paramedics and former paramedics, community representatives, representatives from Northern Health and representatives of the paramedics’ union. The group will be headed by Nancy Kotani, a former executive at the Provincial Health Services Authority who has been seconded to BC Ambulance. Ms Lupini said the group will hold its first meeting on-island Sept. 1. Its recommendations will be used as a model for other rural and remote communities in BC, which are all facing challenges with ambulance service. Queen Charlotte mayor Carol Kulesha, who has been in almost daily contact with Ms Lupini, said she is “conditionally hopeful” that the changes will bring better service to residents of Haida Gwaii. It is already obvious that having two new paramedics available has changed the scheduling dramatically, she said. However, it’s not clear how long the two paramedics will be here, and the long-term problem remains of how to keep small ambulance stations fully staffed. A new model for rural communities is needed, she said. “We deserve the service,” she said. “We have calls and we are just as important. How can we be served the best way possible?… I am hoping that the tragic circumstances that raised everyone’s awareness will raise everyone’s desire to find solutions.” Meanwhile, Ms Lupini said BC Emergency Health Services is committed to full transparency and has started releasing the shift schedule to Ms Kulesha. In the past employees were told not to share this information, but Ms Lupini said that is no longer the case. The fact that someone leaked a copy of the schedule to the Observer a few weeks ago is not a concern, she said. A draft report into the circumstances around the death of Mr. Williams has been completed, she added, and is now being reviewed. Portions of the final report will be shared with Ms Kulesha and other community leaders, Ms Lupini said, although some portions will be withheld due to privacy concerns.

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