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‘Unintended consequences’ of labour agreement could increase rural ambulance response times

Agreement between BCEHS and CUPE good for full-time jobs, bad for rural response times
A new agreement between the BC Emergency Health Service and the paramedics union, while providing much needed improvements to full-time work opportunities and benefits, could also negatively impact ambulance response times for 22 rural communities across the province, including Fernie, Golden, Revelstoke and Kimberley. Black Press file.

“Unforeseen consequences” from a new labor contract negotiated between the paramedics’ union (CUPE) and the BC Emergency Health Service (BCEHS) would negatively impact 22 communities across the province — including Kimberley, Revelstoke and Golden — say MLA Doug Clovechok and Kimberley Mayor Don McCormick.

After hearing and seeing posts from paramedics and residents alike, McCormick said he took to Facebook to address the discussion about these changes, and quell “mis-information” that had begun to taint the conversation.

“This is primarily about jobs and benefits for the paramedics, details of which were long overdue and driven in part by the BC Labor Board,” McCormick said in his post. “This is really a good news story that provides full-time jobs and stability for our paramedics.”

Clovechok agreed with this statement, saying that full-time employment is very important for paramedics.

“They deserve that and they deserve to have fair pay for the work that they do,” Clovechok said, “but for me it’s about the level of service and public safety.”

However, for the 22 communities adversely impacted by the agreement, what will happen is a reduction of service from 24-hour manned ambulance stations to eight-hour manned and Service On-Call (SOC) for the other 16 hours of the day.

During those 16 unmanned hours, response times will increase dramatically, going from an average of 1.5 minutes to get an ambulance on the road, to anywhere from 10 to 20 minutes, according to McCormick.

Both Clovechok and McCormick are concerned about the impacts of the reduction of service on their constituents, but are also concerned that the various local governments were not even informed of these coming changes, let alone consulted.

Clovechok told the Bulletin that he phoned Health Minister Adrian Dix about the issue. Clovechok said that Dix, who was also unaware that the mayors hadn’t been consulted, offered to host a meeting with himself and the mayors, which was held on Tuesday, July 6.

Clovechok said the mayors of Kimberley, Revelstoke and Golden outlined their concerns about the new SOC model. They all agreed that major changes needed to be done to the ambulance and paramedic services and that full-time employment opportunities are good, but expressed concerns about the potential exponential increase in callout times.

“The potential consequences could be dramatically bad for us and rural British Columbia,” Clovechok said said, giving a hypothetical of a heart attack or stroke victim having to wait 20 minutes for an ambulance. “This wasn’t intended, I don’t believe, to put us at a disadvantage, it’s just one of those unforeseen consequences.”

The mayors and MLA have made their concerns to the Health Minister clear and Clovechok said it’s now just a matter of waiting to see what happens.

McCormick said he’s also requested a meeting with the BCEHS which is scheduled for July 26 to further make the case, but said he hopes that the meeting with the Minister of Health will make that meeting unnecessary.