Recruiting has started to fill eight full time newly-created paramedic positions, marking the first time there is to be an around the clock presence at the provincial ambulance station here.
Eight paramedics are what’s needed to staff one of the station’s two ambulances 24 hours a day, seven days a week, indicates information provided by B.C. Emergency Health Services (BCEHS) which is responsible for the ambulance service. One of the eight paramedics will also be the station’s unit chief, four positions are open for current on-call paramedics and three of the positions are open to applicants from other places.
The collective agreement between paramedics and BCEHS sets out details of how positions are staffed in terms of local and provincial applicants. The station’s second ambulance will continue to be staffed by on-call paramedics and there will be no change to the two half-time community paramedic positions.
Should all go according to plan, the eight will be on duty by the end of October. “We have had no issues filling hundreds of positions already this year, across B.C. This is an opportunity for our current paramedics to have long-term work, with benefits and predictable schedules,” said Shannon Miller from BCEHS.
Other than the station’s two community paramedics who have their own vehicle, there is no current permanent full time position in Houston. “Part-time paramedics will still be required to staff shifts for holiday coverage and time off, but also for the staffing of the second ambulance,” said Miller. In addition to the two community paramedics, the local station currently has 14 on-call paramedics.
The Houston station is one of six in the north to convert to 24/7 coverage in what the ambulance service calls an Alpha station. The other Alpha locations are Burns Lake, Chetwynd, Fort St James, Fort Nelson and Vanderhoof. Details about the expanded coverage are now emerging after a blanket announcement was made by health minister Adrian Dix in July.
Local governments of smaller B.C. communities for years have been pushing for ambulance service improvements. Staffing levels at smaller ambulance stations have relied heavily on part time, on call paramedics but the level of pay — $2 an hour while on-call — was widely regarded as insufficient for someone to consider employment as a paramedic.
The BCEHS did propose what it called “scheduled on call” of regular shifts and full pay and benefits at some stations in that paramedics would be at the station for eight hours and on call for the remaining 16 hours a day over a three-day rotation.But because they would not be physically at the station for 16 hours a day, there are worries about a longer response time when called out.
In Houston, there was a particular concern about the potential impact on the medical call out duties of the Houston Volunteer Fire Department. “In this context, the fire department may be paged for more calls which may put more pressure on the unit,” a briefing note to the District of Houston council stated several months ago. There’s also to be an improvement at the Granisle ambulance station where there will be four of the “scheduled on call” positions. “This is different than existing positions where paramedics put in for the shifts they are available to work, on call in the station, or on pager,” said Miller.
In addition to Granisle, four “scheduled on call” positions will also be brought in at ambulance stations on the Southside, Atlin, Dease Lake, Bear Lake, Hudson’s Hope, Mackenzie, McBride, Port Clements on Haida Gwaii, Stewart and Wells.