MLAs express 'grave' concern about Kelowna ambulance cuts

MLAs slam ambulance cuts

The Central Okanagan’s three MLAs are speaking out about the recent cut to Kelowna’s ambulance service.

In a letter to Health Minister Adrian Dix, Kelowna-Mission’s Renee Merrifield, Kelowna-Lake Country’s Norm Letnick and Kelowna West’s Ben Stewart, all B.C. Liberal MLAs, express “grave concern” about the move by B.C. Emergency Health Services not to staff three of the city’s 10 ambulances as of Nov. 1.

“As a rapidly growing region which has already been suffering from a shortage of healthcare and emergency services, this decision will be dangerous for residents who now face even longer wait times and uncertainty when dealing with health programs,” write the MLAs.

BCEHS has said the decision not to staff the three ambulances, which were added as temporary resources in 2020 to help deal with the pandemic, stemmed from a clause in the collective agreement with the paramedics union that says temporary resources cannot remain in place beyond 24 months. But it also says the ambulances may be staffed by on-call paramedics taking occasional shifts, in accordance with the collective agreement.

It also says a demand analysis of call volumes is being done in the Kelowna area.

In their letter, the three MLAs note growing demand for ambulance service in the Kelowna area, as well as concerns expressed by the paramedics union about the move. The union voiced its concerns last week about longer ambulance response times and the impact the decision will have on recruitment and retention of paramedics going forward.

“The situation is dire and has been for months,” write the MLAs. “The health care crisis has been felt across the province, and as we’re dealing with staffing shortages and unstaffed ambulances, people have been experiencing long wait times for ambulances to arrive—tragically these delays have sometimes been deadly.”

They say cutting service should not be an option at this time and are calling on Dix to take action.

The call comes as B.C. Emergency Health Services announced it will station an ambulance at Big White Ski Resort on weekends and on holidays again during the upcoming ski season.

According to the BCEHS, the decision was made following a review of call volumes at Big White last year.

An ambulance and crew will be assigned to the ski hill on Saturdays and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. from Dec. 2 to April 9, as well as during the Christmas break (Dec. 17 through Jan. 2), on New Year’s Eve (Dec. 31), Family Day (Feb. 20) and during Spring Break (March 18 through April 2). After hours, the Big White Fire Department act as first responder at the resort.

Big White’s senior vice-president Micheal Ballingall said he was pleased with the announcement, noting the good relationship the hill has with management of the ambulance service.

He said the decision to station an ambulance at Big White during the upcoming ski season on based on the numbers.

“Obviously, we have more people on weekends and holidays,” he said.

Prior to the pandemic, an ambulance was stationed at the ski hill full-time but was moved to Lake Country when protocols were increased for the treatment Big White firefighters can provide those who injured.

At the ski hill, Big White snow patrollers are normally the first ones on scene when there is an incident, said Ballingall and they will radio for an ambulance if one is required.

He said the ski hill has been very vocal in the past about the need for better ambulance coverage everywhere.

Boundary Similkameen MLA Roly Russell, who represents the Big White area in the B.C. Legislature, was not immediately available to comment.

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