British Columbia expanding life-saving tools available to first responders: health minister
Province says it is also increasing mental health supports for emergency workers
Paramedics and first responders in British Columbia will soon be able to provide more life-saving treatment, the province's health minister said Friday, along with announcing an increase in mental health supports for emergency workers.
Adrian Dix said the province is expanding the care and treatment paramedics can provide, including using portable ultrasounds to assess patients, administering needle decompression for chest traumas or giving life-saving medications.
"When you call 911 and it's an emergency, you need to know that first responders can help you with every health intervention they are trained, licensed and able to deliver," Dix said at a news conference on Friday.
Firefighters will be allowed to use additional diagnostic testing, such as checking blood pressure and blood glucose, or administer medication in a life-threatening allergic reaction.
The new measures announced Friday come after B.C. said in July that it was overhauling the ambulance service to reduce wait-times for the most serious 911 calls after complaints about long delays during medical emergencies.
At the time, Dix said calls had increased dramatically during a record-breaking heat wave this summer that killed almost 600 people when paramedics were already under pressure from the overdose crisis.
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"What we've seen in the last year is an increase, not just in ambulance calls overall, but more importantly, the increase in what we call purple and red calls — the most serious calls that emergency health services deals with. And we are responding to that the best way we can — by improving services .... by adding resources where resources are needed," Dix said.
B.C. Firefighters Association president Gord Ditchburn said the changes are "critical'' for patient care in B.C.
"We have been advocating for this for a considerable length of time,'' Ditchburn said.
"Firefighters responding to incidents where they are waiting significant periods of time for ambulance paramedics will now be able to gather diagnostic information that assists the patient and, with medical oversight, be able to offer immediate treatment and interventions.''
Dix said the province will be working with training institutions, firefighters and ambulance paramedics to get the process started.
The government has also added 85 full-time paramedics, 65 dispatchers and 22 new ambulances, which will all be fully operational by the end of 2022, the minister said.
The changes stem from recommendations made by the licensing board for emergency medical assistants to provide better outcomes for patients needing emergency health services.
E-Comm, the agency that oversees the 911 dispatch system in B.C., said Wednesday that dispatchers will no longer wait on the phone with callers until help arrives in an effort to answer calls more quickly.
Last month, Dix said lessons need to be learned from what happened this summer and a death review panel is expected to provide recommendations to the coroner and the government next spring.
He said the budget for the ambulance service has gone from $424 million to $559 million since 2017 as it hired more paramedics and dispatchers and purchased dozens of ambulances.