Vancouver's icy conditions cause spike in emergency room visits

Treacherously icy sidewalks are keeping Vancouver's paramedics busy.

Sprained ankles, broken wrists, fractured hips keeping Vancouver's emergency responders busy

Many Vancouver sidewalks have been covered in thick layers of solid ice for days. (Farrah Merali/CBC)

Weeks into the South Coast's cold snap, many Vancouver sidewalks remain covered in a thick layer of ice - and first responders say emergency rooms are filling up as a result.

B.C. Health Services said there have been over 800 fall-related injuries since the icy conditions set in.

Dave Leary, a paramedic for Ambulance Paramedics of B.C., has witnessed them first hand.

"Ankle fractures, sprained wrists, head injuries in people that are otherwise in good health — they're all from these slips and falls. It's very treacherous for people out there," he said. 

Leary said tricky road conditions and increased call volumes mean people can find themselves waiting in the cold for one to two hours before receiving help.

"We find people laying out on the ice, they're usually unable to get up if they have a lower body injury. They're cold, in pain, and we try to get them warm and to the hospital as fast as we can," he said.

Leary said this winter has been particularly challenging for first responders.

"With this cold weather on top of the opioid crisis, this has put a greater strain on the resources and the people we have out on the streets now. But our people are still trying to get to each call as quick as they can," he said.

Paramedic Dave Leary recommends sporting solid footwear to brave the treacherous sidewalks. (David Horemans/CBC)

Anna Marie D'Angelo, spokesperson for Vancouver Coastal Health, said emergency room visits have gone up since the icy conditions set in.

"During the last few days since the latest cold snap, we've seen increased numbers of people coming to our emergency department in Vancouver, Richmond and on the North Shore with weather-related injuries," she said.

She said the increase in volume became noticeable once the holidays wrapped up.

"On Tuesday things seemed normal. But by the evening lots of people were coming in. The conditions were extremely icy and people were trying to resume their usual schedules after the holidays," she said.

Vancouver Coastal Health says emergency room visits have gone up since the icy conditions set in. (David Horemans/CBC)

The trend isn't isolated to Greater Vancouver. Tasleem Juma with Fraser Health said her agency noticed a similar pattern.

"We are seeing higher patient volumes coming into our emergency departments due to slips and falls," she said.

"We're concerned for more vulnerable populations — seniors who may have mobility issues already. We're encouraging people to be good neighbours - maybe go check on seniors in your neighbourhood," she said.

Leary said that while some injuries caused by falls are minor, others can cause permanent damage if left untreated.

"Injuries we've been seeing have ranged from sprains and bruises to long bone fractures, concussions and internal bleeding," he said.

Leary said anyone who slips or witnesses a bad fall should immediately phone 9-1-1, then focus on keeping themselves or the injured party warm.

The cold weather is expected to continue, with more snow on the way.