Salmon Arm’s ambulance service came under scrutiny last week when it took paramedics more than 20 minutes to reach an emergency less than a kilometre away from the hospital.
Around noon on March 1, an elderly man was found face down in slush and snow by the curb on Lakeshore Drive. Members of the public and staff from the downtown Salmon Arm Savings and Credit Union cared for the man and guided traffic while waiting for an ambulance to arrive.
Frustration began to rise as the wait time increased. The individual who made the initial 911 call said about a half hour had passed. Five minutes after that, an ambulance finally arrived. The man was safely moved onto a stretcher and transported to Shuswap Lake General Hospital for treatment.
Loyd Ondang, local district manager with BC Ambulance Service, said the wait time was, in fact, just under 23 minutes. While he was reluctant to answer if this is acceptable, he did say he is new to the position and he’ll be looking at resources, what’s working and what isn’t.
“So what I’ve been doing is kind of learning still about the stations and the responses and the resources that we have…,” said Ondang, who oversees BC Ambulance Service operations from Revelstoke to the North Okanagan. “From what I’ve observed, so far it seems to be OK. The ultimate goal would be to have resources available all the time, full time, but that’s just not the way it is right now. That’s something I’d have to look more in-depth at.”
Bronwyn Barter, a paramedic and spokesperson with the Ambulance Paramedics and Emergency Dispatchers of B.C., already has an idea of what’s afflicting Salmon Arm and other rural/urban communities in B.C.: high call volumes and not enough resources.
“It’s our position is that the whole province should be reviewed with regard to resources because it’s our belief we’re understaffed and under-resourced…,” said Barter.
For Barter, the March 1 incident highlights part of this issue, a reliance on paramedics who work for $2 an hour on-call until they are paged to work.
“People are out doing their other thing… and not only do they have to respond to their vehicles, they have to respond to the station, pick up the ambulance and go to the call,” said Barter. “And in our view… that’s unacceptable.”
Ondang confirmed Salmon Arm is currently served by three ambulances. One is staffed with a full-time crew, the Bravo car. The other two ambulances, Kilo One and Kilo Two, are staffed by on-call paramedics.
During the March 1 incident, Bravo and Kilo One had already been dispatched, leaving Kilo Two to respond.
“So what happens is we got the call at dispatch at 11:58 in the afternoon, and then what they do is they page out the crew,” said Ondang, explaining the March 1 call was initially categorized as a routine fall response, but was upgraded to a Code 3 emergency, requiring the ambulance to travel with lights and sirens on.
Crews who receive the page, Ondang continued, are required to acknowledge the page, and then respond to the station.
Once in the ambulance, they hit a button acknowledging their presence.
“Looks like the first acknowledgment in the car was at 12:13… They arrived at scene there at 12:20.”
Barter says eight minutes and 59 seconds is the target ambulance response time, from page out to patient, recognized by the Paramedic Chiefs of Canada.
“It has been adopted by BC Ambulance Service in the sense that they’ve recognized it in one of their reports; however, it’s not a target they are able to meet consistently. I believe that’s what we should be aiming for,” said Barter.
Asked if Salmon Arm has staffing issues, Ondang said no, Salmon Arm is a desired station for employment.
“It’s a busier station, so for the part-time people, they have more opportunity to make an income here,” said Ondang.
If people do have issues or a concern with the service they receive from paramedics, including the time they have to wait for an ambulance, Ondang said they can make a complaint with the province’s Patient Care and Quality Review Board.
“The ultimate goal is to provide great patient quality care, giving the patient the best care they can get. But how do we do that?” said Ondang.
“My kind of approach is to talk with the union and the crew members and say, ‘hey look, what’s going on? What can we do together collaboratively to make this work and make it a better place?’ That’s ultimately what my job is and what I want to do.”