While the North Island community and its leaders struggle to keep our hospitals open, there’s another emerging problem on the health horizon — a shortage of qualified ambulance personnel.
“If we don’t get active right now, if we don’t get aggressive (with recruitment) it may effect our abilty to maintain ambulance coverage in the community,” said Lance Stephenson, North Vancouver Island District superintendent for the BC Ambulance Service.
There are six stations in the North Island BCAS District: Port McNeill, Port Hardy, Alert Bay, Sointula, Zeballos and Port Alice.
“We’ve been very lucky in maintaining enthusiasm and commitment by the community in keeping those stations staffed,” said Stephenson.
“However, over six months, with changes and people moving on, we’ve had some challenges, specifically in Port Alice and Port Hardy where we are experiencing a staffing shortage.”
But even having a full staff of volunteers doesn’t necessarily mean people will be around to handle the emergency calls.
“We can cover the ambulance shifts at night because people are around, but it’s the daytime and weekends when they’re all at work or out of town when we have challenges,” said Stephenson.
Right now, the service could use about a dozen new people, he said.
“Ideally we’d like to secure four or five more staff for Port Alice, two or three more for Port Hardy, two more for Port McNeill and we’re looking at two more for Alert Bay and two for Zeballos.”
As a result of the staffing shortages, BC Ambulance Service is aggressively recruiting and has met with community leaders, talked to councils and First Nations representatives about the communities getting involved with their ambulance services.
“There are two types of people who work for the B.C. Ambulance Service; career-oriented and those who want to assist in their communities,” said Stephenson.
“In these rural northern communities, it the community-oriented people we’re looking for — people who live in the community and are willing to take the pager, be on call and respond in the event of an emergency.”
And right now, the service is desperate for people wanting to become emergency medical responders (EMRs), entry-level paramedics.
“It’s extremely vital we get people for these positions,” said Stephenson. “Whether it be people who’ve had a keen interest over the years and want to be part of the ambulance service to become a paramedic, or the community helping out in trying to give us a northern advantage — whatever that may look like.”
There is some commitment required: recruits must have a Class 4 driver’s licence and be willing to take an EMR course.
“If the butcher, the baker and candlestick maker can carry one of our pagers, get their EMR training and their Class 4 license and are able to put the closed sign up when they get a call, then that’s the kind of community support, the community involvement we’re looking for,” said Stephenson.
“In saying that, because we are getting the message out there, it is making a significant difference.”
Those interested in learning more are urged to call toll free 1-877-577-2227.