B.C. ambulance paramedics have long complained about tough hours and working conditions.
No government, Liberal or NDP, seemed to pay much attention. Perhaps it’s because cutting a ribbon at a two-bay ambulance station is a little less impressive than at a new hospital ward or cancer centre.
Perhaps it’s because their work could be offloaded onto firefighters, who have found themselves tasked with responding to more and more medical calls over the past decade.
But B.C. Emergency Health Services members are often the first medical professionals many people see when they’re having the worst day of their lives.
Between COVID-19 and the opioid epidemic, it was inevitable that all aspects of the health-care system would feel the effects of the strain.
Following the heat dome event in late June that likely led to the death of scores of B.C. residents, it seemed the system had all but broken down.
The province’s announcements on July 14 — new leadership, a new structure that highlights the ambulance service’s critical nature, and most importantly funding to hire 85 more paramedics, 30 more dispatchers, and buy 22 new ambulances — is a good start.
But we didn’t come to the point of near-total collapse of our ambulance service overnight.
We won’t repair it overnight, either.
This vital service needs long-term scrutiny and accountability. It needs steady and predictable increases in funding and staffing. It needs regular reviews. It needs to be treated like it’s vital – because it is.
Our province is both growing and aging. British Columbia’s population of more than five million people is only going to increase, and many of them are going to need emergency medical help in the coming decades.
It is essential that our ambulance services are staffed and funded for the long haul.