Paramedic union president Bronwyn Barter (left) and Tofino paramedic Rhiannon Davis describe Davis’ work making house calls under a new B.C. program, March 8, 2017. (Tom Fletcher/Black Press)

B.C. Paramedics to get their own union

Minister Adrian Dix wants to deal with opioids, community care

The B.C. government will be better able to work with paramedics on their most pressing issues once they have their own union bargaining unit, Health Minister Adrian Dix says.

Dix announced Tuesday that the change is to help the paramedics deal with the ongoing opioid overdose epidemic, which has put pressure on ambulance and other emergency services. It will also help with a long-term project to integrate rural paramedics with residential care and allow house calls with elderly people, he said.

“A standalone bargaining unit would provide members of CUPE local 873 the opportunity to integrate emergency health services provided by paramedics and dispatchers further into the health-care system,” Dix said. “By helping to ensure a strong voice for paramedics, this change would also support patient care, with a focus on key areas such as response times, rural and remote staffing, and innovative ways of treating patients with non-emergency injuries and illnesses.”

Former health minister Terry Lake announced in March 2017 that a pilot project for rural paramedicine is to be expanded. It started in Tofino, Ucluelet, Port Hardy, Cortes Island, Fort St. James, Hazelton, Chetwynd, Creston and Princeton.

The program has been expanded to more than 70 rural communities, allowing paramedics to visit patients between emergency calls to help them treat people at home or on scene in response to a 9-1-1 call where the patient does not require transport to a hospital.

The B.C. Liberals’ pre-election budget included $91.4 million over three years to fund the new paramedic system, hire 60 more paramedics and 20 ambulance dispatch staff.

A “universal hourly wage” for rural paramedics took effect in April 2017, replacing paid-on-call and giving part-time paramedics a raise.

Communities to receive rural paramedicine service, as announced in March:

• Island Health region: Alert Bay, Cortes Island, Denman Island (including Hornby Island), Gabriola Island, Galiano Island, Gold River, Mayne Island, Pender Island, Port Alice, Port Hardy, Port Renfrew, Port McNeil, Quadra Island, Sayward, Sointula, Tahsis, Tofino, Ucluelet, Zeballos

• Northern Health region: Atlin, Chetwynd, Dease Lake, Fraser Lake, Fort St. James, Granisle, Haida Gwaii, Hazelton, Houston, Hudson Hope, MacKenzie, McBride, Kitwanga, Southside, Stewart, Tumbler Ridge, Valemount, Wells

• Interior Health region: Alexis Creek, Anahim Lake, Blue River, Clearwater, Clinton, Creston, Edgewood, Elkford, Field, Fruitvale, Gold Bridge, Golden, Greenwood, Kaslo. Keremeos. Lillooet, Logan Lake, Lumby, Lytton, Midway, Nakusp, New Denver, Princeton, Revelstoke, Riondel, Rossland, Salmo, Seton Portage, Sicamous, Sparwood, Winlaw

• Vancouver Coastal region: Bella Bella, Bella Coola, Bowen Island, Madiera Park, Texada Island

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