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North Coast leaders met with the province to voice ambulance concerns

Representative from Haida Gwaii and Nuxalk Nation ask for answers
An ambulance sits outside of the Port Clements Medical Centre. Representatives from Haida Gwaii met with the Minister of Health, Adrian Dix, to discuss concerns around paramedic shortages on Aug. 3. (Photo: Kaitlyn Bailey/Haida Gwaii Observer)

Spurred by growing concern about paramedic shortages and gaps in service, three leaders from Haida Gwaii and Nuxalk Nation lobbied for solutions during a meeting with Adrian Dix, Minister of Health, and Leanne Heppell, executive vice president and chief ambulance officer at BC Emergency Health Services (BCEHS), on Aug. 3.

The province introduced a new paramedic staffing model for rural and remote communities in the fall of 2021, which they refer to as Scheduled on Call (SOC).

According to a BCEHS document posted online, the new model funded permanent full-time and part-time paramedic positions.

The document states that the previous “on-call” model relied on paramedics to work around other commitments without a guarantee of regular pay.

Kris Olsen, mayor of Daajing Giids (formerly Queen Charlotte), said that while he’s very excited Haida Gwaii communities will have permanent paramedic positions, they need answers for the interim before these positions are filled.

BC Emergency Health Services agreed to offer a $100 shift premium to on-call paramedics for five months to help bridge the gaps caused by the change, Olsen said. However, that agreement is due to expire soon.

“I really feel that they need to continue that shift premium until we have full paramedic services again within our municipality,” Olsen said during a Village of Daajing Giids council meeting on Aug. 15. “We had 100 per cent before, we don’t have it now.”

During a follow-up meeting that Olsen had with Heppell, he said BCEHS committed to working with the union to continue the shift premium.

At this point, Olsen does not have information about how extensive the gaps in service have been. According to him, BCEHS said they will be providing these statistics to communities on Haida Gwaii.

“We want to know how much has been filled, how much hasn’t,” Olsen said.

Samuel Schooner, chief of the Nuxalk Nation, said he had been given paramedic schedules for Bella Coola.

Looking at the September calendar, Schooner said there are 10 days that are completely blank, indicating no paramedic on duty.

“We’ve definitely had our issues. There are times that there’s no availability of paramedics. We had an instance there, a couple of weeks ago now, that one of our members passed away and we had nobody. The closest ambulance was two hours away in Anahim Lake and so the RCMP had to respond,” Schooner said.

He added that BCEHS is now flying paramedics into Bella Coola, to temporarily cover shifts.

“At what cost? Would it be cheaper if we had the old system up and running? … They’re flying them in, they have to put them up in a room and they have to pay them the wages that they’re paying them,” he said.

Schooner was also at the meeting with Dix and Heppell on Aug. 3, but he didn’t feel like he got any answers.

“They gave us, ‘Yeah we’re really close to having your concerns solved,’ but that doesn’t say much,” Schooner said.

North Coast MLA Jennifer Rice was also present at the meeting on Aug. 3.

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 Kaitlyn Bailey | Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
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