British Columbia

Lower Mainland mayors urge province to expand role of municipal emergency responders

In a letter to Health Minister Adrian Dix last week, the mayors say they're "extremely concerned'' about the impacts of staffing shortages at the provincial ambulance service on response times and patient care.

'We are currently dealing with the dual crises of COVID-19 and the opioid crisis,' says Delta mayor

The mayors' letter cites a recent example where fire personnel arrived within four minutes of a 911 call, while they say it took 50 minutes for the B.C. Ambulance Service to reach the scene. (Robb Douglas/CBC)

A group of 11 Metro Vancouver mayors says recent long delays for ambulance service should prompt the provincial government to reconsider the role of other municipal emergency responders.

In a letter to Health Minister Adrian Dix last week, the mayors say they're "extremely concerned'' about the impacts of staffing shortages at the provincial ambulance service on response times and patient care.

It says the union representing B.C. ambulance paramedics and emergency dispatchers reported last month that 30 of 120 ambulances across the Lower Mainland were unstaffed — a challenge the mayors say is exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic and ongoing opioid crisis.

B.C. Emergency Health Services is responsible for call intake and dispatch, and the mayors say many municipal firefighters are trained and licensed to administer an enhanced level of emergency medical care to patients.

Their letter cites a recent example where fire personnel arrived within four minutes of a 911 call about a suspected drug overdose, while they say it took 50 minutes for the B.C. Ambulance Service to reach the scene.

Representatives from the Health Ministry and B.C. Emergency Health Services, which operates the ambulance service, did not immediately respond to requests for comment to the mayors' letter.

The letter was signed by the mayors of Delta, Richmond, Burnaby, Langley, Port Coquitlam, Pitt Meadows, White Rock, North Vancouver and the villages of Belcarra and Anmore. It notes the group wrote to Dix's deputy last April with the same request to expand the range of services that municipal emergency medical responders may be called to attend.

Their latest letter says the mayors are aware that Dix is working to resolve the complex issue of ambulance staffing shortages.

"However, we need to utilize the resources that we have in place now, for the benefit of all our residents,'' it says.

In a statement posted Tuesday, Delta Mayor George Harvie says last week fire personnel arrived on scene within six minutes to care for a patient with a serious medical issue until an ambulance arrived after 42 minutes. 

Harvie says the mayors want to work with the province to ensure the most vulnerable people have access to emergency services in a timely manner.

"We are currently dealing with the dual crises of COVID-19 and the opioid crisis and all we're asking for is the opportunity to provide effective services for our communities.''

A 2019 report from B.C.'s auditor general found improved co-ordination between B.C. Emergency Health Services and fire departments was needed to support the consistent application of medical standards, information sharing and improvements to patient care.

This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook-Canadian Press News Fellowship, which is not involved in the editorial process.

With files from the Canadian Press

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