— With files from Tom Fletcher
Rossland and Fruitvale should have community paramedics delivering care by October, according to the vice president of BC Emergency Health Services (BCEHS).
Following last Wednesday’s announcement from Minister of Health Terry Lake that the provincial government has allocated an additional $91.4 million over three years for emergency health services, Linda Lupini, executive vice president of the BCEHS, told the News that rural paramedic positions for Rossland and Fruitvale have already been posted.
“Fruitvale and Rossland are in Phase 2, which means those positions were just posted,” she says.
Community paramedics in Salmo and Winlaw are completing their orientations.
The community paramedics will work with health authorities to pay proactive home visits to community members who are elderly or who have chronic diseases.
“We have seen in other jurisdictions that when you implement a program like that, your 9-1-1 calls get reduced,” says Lupini.
The community paramedic positions are part-time, which will also allow them to answer 9-1-1 calls. “So that will also enhance staffing in those communities,” says Lupini.
Last Wednesday’s announcement included not only the completion of the rural paramedicine program, which will provide non-emergency services in more than 70 rural communities, but also 60 more paramedics and 20 ambulance dispatch staff over the next year, as well as six more ambulances in the Lower Mainland and an unspecified number in the Interior.
Lupini wasn’t able to be any more specific.
“We’re looking at all the areas and we’re looking at our response times and our staffing. I don’t know for sure right now [how many ambulances will be added for the Interior], it ranges, but I would estimate that we’ll probably put two in the Interior, in addition to some other things we’re doing that will help response times,” she says.
Lupini believes that the new universal hourly wage, which will go into effect on April 7, and the creation of permanent part-time jobs will help improve response times in Rossland and Castlegar, for example, because it will help with recruiting and retaining paramedics.
“In some areas, for example Rossland and Castlegar, you’ve got two cars in Castlegar and one in Rossland, but the one in Rossland and one of them in Castlegar, for example, are on-call type paramedics. So they carry a pager, they get paid $2 an hour to carry a pager, and they only really get paid when they get called out,” Lupini explains.
The universal hourly wage will mean an increase for paramedics who are called out and permanent part-time jobs will give paramedics a guaranteed number of hours of work, as well as benefits.
But Lupini wasn’t able to say where new permanent part-time positions will be offered.
“So we’re not at the point yet where we know exactly where those are going to be. We’re going to have a look at the patient populations, we’re going to have a look at our call volume, and we’re going to figure out where it’s best to place those positions,” she says.
“Ultimately, some time down the road, it would be ideal to not have any on-call positions and to have enough people on a permanent part-time basis, but we won’t be able to do that right away. So, we’ll start with where the highest priorities are around patient needs and around call volume, and we should know that in the next few months.”