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Province makes changes to improve ambulance response times

After an unprecedented number of deaths related to the recent heat wave, the province is overhauling B.C.’s ambulance service..

Provincial funding will go towards 85 new full-time paramedics, 30 full-time dispatchers, 22 new ambulances, and converting 22 rural ambulance stations to 24/7 ALPHA stations.

Six are scheduled to be running by this October. Plans for up to an additional 16 stations will be ready around the same time.

Health minister, Adrian Dix, says this will quicken response times while relieving pressure on first responders.

“This immediate action on operations, as well as stronger leadership and increased investment at BC Emergency Health Services, will deliver a more effective ambulance service for patients and families depending on it,” Dix said. “And of course we have to support our workforce: our ambulance paramedics (and) our dispatchers.”

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From June 25th to July 1st, 719 deaths were reported to B.C.’s coroners.

That’s three times more than what would normally occur in BC during the same period.

“When we call for help, we need to know help is on the way, and that it will arrive quickly,” Dix said. 

In response, health minister Adrian Dix is reconstituting the BC Emergency Health Services board of directors to focus solely on ambulance services. 

It will be directly accountable to the minister of health with a mandate to, the province says, “ensure better service for patients and families who rely on the services – and better supports for workers who deliver the service.”

Dix has appointed Jim Chu, former chief constable of the Vancouver Police Department, to chair the board.

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“Jim Chu has extensive experience leading front-line emergency services in British Columbia. I am confident he will provide the focused governance leadership BC Emergency Services needs to be an effective and high performing ambulance service,” Dix said.

Chu said: “I am enthusiastic to bring what I have learned from my time as chief constable of the Vancouver Police Department to this important role. I look forward to working together with the Ministry of Health, BC Emergency Health Services management, paramedics and dispatchers to ensure the ambulance service provides timely and exceptional help for British Columbians, and that it’s an outstanding employer for workers.”

Telus’s president and CEO, Darren Entwistle, will serve as a special adviser to the board.

As well, Dix has directed that BC Emergency Health Services now be led by a chief ambulance officer responsible for the day-to-day management of the BC Ambulance Service.

Dix has appointed Leanne Heppell to serve as B.C.’s new chief ambulance officer on an interim basis. She is a trained clinical nurse specialist, currently serving as chief operating officer for acute care and chief of professional practice and nursing at Providence Health Care. Heppell has 20 years experience in senior leadership at Vancouver Coastal Health, Fraser Health and the BC Ambulance Service.

To get paramedics and ambulances back on the road to respond to patient calls more quickly, the province says it’s “directing health authorities to add additional staff to receive patients and care for them when they arrive at emergency departments.”

The government added that it’s taking “immediate action to support workers.”

This includes a direction that BC Emergency Health Services is to contract a team of mental health and wellness professionals to work directly with dispatch staff and paramedics to address chronic stress, fatigue and support wellness among staff (including access to trauma-informed therapy).

The new board chair, working with the BC Emergency Health Services Board and chief ambulance officer, will ensure the BC Ambulance Service will present the approach to the minister of health for consideration of additional action for 2022-23 and beyond.

B.C. is also returning to the pre-COVID-19 first-responder dispatching practices for 911. 

It is also directing the Emergency Medical Assistants Management Licensing Board to examine expanding firefighters’ scope of practice. The deadline for recommendations is Sept. 6th.

The province says it is collaborating with BC Emergency Health Services and the Ambulance Paramedics of BC, “to identify a range of measures to address employee wellness, operational performance, workload, response times, recruitment and retention, and public engagement.”

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