B.C. Emergency Health Services has finally responded to the question of why it cut three ambulances from its Kelowna service.
In an e-mail response to questions asked by Castanet earlier this month, a service spokeswoman says while the three ambulances are still in Kelowna, they are not being staffed at this time because language in the collective agreement with the paramedic’s union prevents that. But she also states Kelowna is also not eligible for funding that could pay for their operation.
Appendix 15 of the collective agreement between the BCEHS and the paramedic’s union states temporary positions cannot last longer than 24 months.
“The temporary contracts for paramedic staffing went live on Nov. 1, 2020, and because of the provisions noted (in Appendix 15) related to the collective agreement, they ended Oct. 31, 2022,” states the email.
It adds, “the ambulances may be staffed by on-call paramedics taking occasional shifts, in accordance with the collective agreement.”
Castanet first reported Nov. 5 the emergency health service quietly removed three ambulances from its Kelowna contingent by not staffing them as of Nov. 1.
The B.C. Paramedics Union said the growing demand for ambulance service in the Central Okanagan shows they are badly needed and wants the three made part of the city ambulance station’s full-time contingent.
It fears even longer waits for ambulances in the area and in some cases ambulances not showing up at all because none are available.
Prior to Nov. 1, Kelowna had 10 ambulances available. The three taken out of service were part of 55 added by the province in 2020.
In addition to the collective agreement language, it also appears to be a money issue.
“The reason Kelowna and some other urban stations didn’t qualify for the Rural Remote First Nations and Indigenous COVID-19 Framework (RRIF) sustainment phase permanent pandemic positions (208 regular and 50 irregular), is because the funding was targeted to where the permanent resources are needed most, in areas of rural and remote B.C.,” says the BCEHS email.
“We are fully aware of the growing needs in Kelowna.”
Meanwhile, the BCEHS says a demand analysis is underway to determine what is needed in the Kelowna area and other parts of the province.
“We can share that demand analysis typically factors such (issues) as 911 volumes, hospital-to-hospital transfer volumes, geography, patient flow (related to hospital and health care services) and proximity to other ambulance stations as well as health facilities,” says the email.
Currently, ambulances from outlying communities, such as Lake Country, West Kelowna and Peachland are used to augment Kelowna ambulance services, often leaving those areas without ambulance coverage for hours at a time.The BCEHS email does not give any indication as to when the demand analysis will be completed, what areas it covers or how much it is costing.
Meanwhile, the paramedics union says it will continue to call on the BCEHS to make the three former temporary ambulances that were used in Kelowna full-time resources, like 25 of the formerly announced 55 temporary ambulances were in other parts of the province.