Burnout, lack of staff and increased levels of service have forced the Ambulance Paramedics and Emergency Dispatchers of BC (APBC) to call for help.

It’s an issue that effects not only the staff, but those who are in need of their services according to CUPE 873 President Cameron Eby.

“It’s reached what we’re characterizing as an unprecedented level which is of course going to impact response times all over.”

The northern region has had what Eby calls “chronic issues,” in experiencing significant out of service rates.

Eby says the lack of employees is creating a snowball effect for the services their members offer in larger cities.

“We got the jobs there but the workload level is so high and there are a number of unfilled full time positions,” Eby explains.

“And those contribute to people being burnt out and fatigued due to workload levels.” Eby says this sometimes results in people not being able to report for shifts, resulting in an increased workload for those who do. The problem persists in smaller communities with populations fewer than 15,000.

“There just isn’t good paying jobs there to attract qualified paramedics. So there’s a significant recruitment problem.”

Mental health factors in the strain on service as well. According to APBC, a recent survey administered to paramedic organizations across the country by the Mental Health Commission of Canada found that 81% of paramedics and dispatchers in B.C. report they feel that BC Emergency Health Services does not monitor compassion fatigue and burnout, while the majority feel they do not have an appropriate balance of call volume to recovery time.

“When you’re dealing with serious, life threatening situations,” Eby illustrates. “And they’re one after another, it’s very hard on the responders and the paramedics and the dispatchers involved.”

Eby calls for a number of changes including better paying jobs in remote communities and to fill the vacancies that exist in larger city centres. As of right now, the workload levels are ‘unsustainable.’

BC Emergency Health Services was not available for comment but released this statement on the issue: 

We are working with our scheduling staff to fill shifts with available staff including part time and casual staff. We have also had a number of vacancies, which are being filled. We know paramedics are responding to more calls than ever before, as the result of a growing, aging population in BC. And the overdose crisis is also taking its toll on our paramedics and dispatchers, and we thank them for their dedication.

Despite current demands, response times for the most critical calls in high volume areas such as Vancouver are holding steady, and we credit our staff with maintaining this. We do know that some patients with less-urgent conditions may be waiting longer at peak times, as we respond to the life-threatening and urgent calls. We know it is stressful waiting for an ambulance, and we are working hard on many fronts to ensure adequate ambulance resources. As part of the BCEHS Action Plan, we have added more paramedics and more ambulances and we continue to make resource changes where they are needed most.

We have also added resources and made changes in our dispatch centres to better match resources to patients. BCEHS is starting to see improvements in service and response times as a result and we continue to expect to see improvements as we carry on with our action plan.