Patient is transported from an ambulance to a waiting helicopter on the Trans-Canada Highway. (Photo by John Mountain)

B.C.’s rural, remote regions bear lion’s share of gaps in ambulance services: report

The report recommends that BCEHS evaluate its advanced care coverage across the province

B.C. Auditor General Carol Bellringer released a report this week on the BC Emergency Health Service, confirming what many people in rural B.C. already know: Service levels and response times could use improvement.

The report found that access to emergency health services varies depending on where you live, with fewer or no paramedics trained to provide advanced care in rural and remote communities.

“We found that BCEHS sometimes takes longer than it would like to, to reach patients where time matters,” the report states. “This increases the risk that some patients do not receive the care they need, when they need it.”

The report recommends that BCEHS evaluate its advanced care coverage across the province to determine whether it is sufficiently meeting the needs of patients.

This problem has been known for quite some time. A 2017 report from the BC Forest Safety Ombudsman Roger Harris pointed out serious gaps in the provision of emergency medical transportation services to people living and working in rural parts of the province.

READ MORE: Slow response, poor coordination hamper B.C. firefighters, paramedics, AG says

READ MORE: Reports support claims of subpar care

“The availability and level of emergency medical services in B.C. is distinctly split down urban and rural lines,” said Harris in the report.

The auditor general’s report points out several reasons that patients in rural and remote areas can experience lower levels of service than urban patients. Some of these issues are not easily corrected.

Partially due to greater travel distances and the reliance on on-call staff, BCEHS has set response time targets for high acuity calls significantly longer for rural and remote calls. The targets are nine minutes for urban, 15 minutes for rural and 30 minutes for remote.

BCEHS says it is meeting those targets 79 per cent of the time for rural calls and 77 per cent of the time for remote calls.

But critics question whether the targets themselves are appropriate. Without provincial or national standards, BCEHS sets its own standards for patient care.

After seeing the report, Hans Dysarz, the executive director of the emergency medical care advocacy group BC HEROS (BC Helicopter Emergency Rescue Operations Society), said he wishes the report had gone further in pushing for change in the ambulance service.

“I am afraid nothing is going to change for rural B.C.,” said Dysarz.

The longer distance to appropriate hospital care also plays a role in the urban-rural divide.

All of the Level 1 trauma centres equipped to care for patients experiencing major trauma are in the Lower Mainland.

Level 2 trauma centres are in Kelowna, Kamloops and Victoria. Three of the Level 3 trauma centres are in the Lower Mainland, with one in Nanaimo and one in Prince George.

That leaves a vast swath of B.C. residents with a very long way to travel to reach the help they need.

The third issue mentioned in the report related to lower levels of service in rural areas is that advanced care paramedics are not stationed in rural and remote communities.

BCEHS says it stations them in areas where demand for emergency health services is greatest.

READ MORE: Policy prevents advanced paramedic care in rural areas

READ MORE: B.C. not prepared for a Humboldt Broncos bus crash, group says

The report confirms patients in communities without advanced care paramedics have fewer medical interventions available to them at the scene of an emergency and on the way to the hospital.

“This puts some patients at greater risk,” says the report.

According to BCEHS data for 2017, advanced or critical care paramedics were only dispatched to 17 per cent of rural and remote pre-hospital patients identified by BCEHS call-takers as requiring the highest level of care available, and the median response time for those calls was 27 minutes.

The numbers are quite different for urban centres where advanced or critical care paramedics were dispatched to 74 per cent of calls identified as requiring the highest level of care. The median response time to the urban calls was 11 minutes.

To compensate for the lack of advanced paramedic staffing, paramedics in the field have 24/7 access to guidance from advanced care paramedics through the paramedic specialist program, as well as from physicians through dispatch.

But, emergency medical responders (EMRs) and primary care paramedics (PCPs) can only perform the tasks they are licensed to perform.

“However, it [BCEHS] has not evaluated its advanced care coverage to determine whether it is sufficient to meet the needs of patients requiring higher-level care across the province,” said the report.

BCEHS executive vice president Linda Lupini issued a statement in response to the auditor’s report.

“In many ways, the report underscores the critical importance of the BCEHS Action Plan, our three-year strategy to improve services,” she said.

“Initiatives in our action plan are already beginning to address a number of issues raised, including improved response times for life-threatening and urgent calls.”

Lupini stated the organization is committed to following up on the report’s recommendations.

READ MORE: Critical Condition Series looks into issues plaguing emergency health services in B.C.



betsy.kline@castlegarnews.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Just Posted

Vernon Tigers, South Okanagan Flames play to wild draw

Thompson Okanagan Junior Lacrosse League match ends 17-17; overtime solves nothing

Okanagan adventurer continues motorcycle trip around the world

Vernon local James Leigh recently completed the third of five legs of the journey, travelling through China and Kazakhstan

Okanagan-Shuswap Weather: Most long-weekend rain has already fallen

A mix of sun and cloud is expected for the last two days of the the Victoria Day weekend.

Riders “step up” their game at Equestrian Clinic

Riders from across the Okanagan travelled to Coldstream to train for the 2019 55+ Senior Games, which take place in Kelowna this fall.

Update: Mother dead, youth in critical condition after carbon monoxide poisoning at Sandy Point Campground

The woman was found unresponsive insider her tent and the youth was taken via air ambulance to hospital

Kelowna RCMP interrogation video brings home reality in ‘visceral way’: former TRC chairman

Video of Mountie interrogating young Indigenous woman disclosing sexual abuse under fire

Court decision prompts regional district to throw flood mitigation back at province

Public safety minister maintains Newsome Creek concerns in hands of local government

Woodworth purchased Summerland rink, created butcher operation

Giant’s Head Rink had been one of three facilities in Summerland

Canadian killed in Honduras plane crash

The crash happened in the Roatan Islands area, according to officials

Get those flowers competition ready

Gardeners will come together June 29, for the 22nd Juried Flower Show

B.C. ferry stops to let black bear swim past near Nanaimo

Queen of Oak Bay brakes for wildlife in Nanaimo’s Departure Bay

Some South Okanagan students are $1,000 richer

Million Dollar Bursary Program offers bursaries each year to Interior Savings’ young members

Canada’s parole officers say correctional system has reached breaking point

About half of Canada’s federal parole officers work inside penitentiaries and correctional institutions

Montreal researchers create audible hockey puck for visually impaired players

Three years ago, Gilles Ouellet came up with the idea for a puck that makes a continuous sound

Most Read