Two ambulances shifting to overburdened Victoria for three month trial
Sam Van Schie
Sirens whirl down Sooke Road but the ambulance they’re coming from didn’t originate from the nearby Colwood station.
View Royal Coun. Andrew Britton, standing outside West Shore’s only BC Ambulance station at the corner of Sooke and Jacklin roads, guesses the emergency vehicle was dispatched from Royal Oak, as local ambulances are already out on calls.
It’s a situation he expects to be much more common after June 1 when the two ambulances that operate out of Colwood during daytime hours are reassigned to the central station on Douglas Street near Uptown, leaving West Shore with a single 24-hour, seven-day-per week ambulance.
Britton, a paramedic by trade, says he’s concerned emergency response times will increase on the West Shore, putting residents at risk.
“What we need is more ambulances and ultimately more funding from the province to pay for them,” he said. “Taking services from one place and putting them somewhere else doesn’t solve the problem. It’s like robbing Peter to pay Paul.”
But Shawn Carby, executive director for BC Ambulance on Vancouver Island, said West Shore’s ambulances are under utilized.
“It’s hard to make a case for more resources when we’re not making the best use of what we already have,” he said, noting Victoria has a much higher call volume than the West Shore.
“We have no expectation this will have an impact on West Shore response time,” Carby said. “It should actually improve response times overall, by moving the cars closer to where the majority of calls originate.”
Britton doesn’t deny that Victoria is swamped with calls, but he fears West Shore could see a rush when all the Victoria ambulances are already on the road.
“They’ll have to dispatch from Sooke or Sidney. There’s no way they’ll make it in the critical (eight minute) window when a life is at risk,” he said. “I’d rather there be three ambulances sitting here unused than know we’re unprepared when multiple emergencies happen.”
Regional vice-president of the Ambulance Paramedics of BC Union (CUPE 874) Rick Atkinson said West Shore paramedics are generally out on calls for 45 to 60 per cent of their shift.
“They need downtime between calls to fill out paperwork and clean the ambulance,” he said, adding that overworked paramedics are more likely to become sick, injured or burnt out. This is common in Victoria where paramedics are out of the station for up to 90 per cent of their shift.
Atkinson says ambulances are taken out of circulation for shifts two or three times per month in Greater Victoria’s core due to a lack of paramedics — all on-call staff are already filling in for sick or injured full-time paramedics.
Atkinson doesn’t agree with shifting resources from Colwood to ease the problem.
“The population is growing and our resources aren’t keeping up. We’re moving backwards.”
The Colwood station has had at least two ambulances since 1976. In 2006, there was public outcry when BC Ambulance pulled Colwood’s on-call “kilo car” for transferring patients between hospitals, which would have brought the station down to one ambulance.
Ultimately it brought on the two vehicles now in question to have a secondary ambulance on shift during the day.
Colwood councillor and protective services committee chair Gordie Logan was among those speaking up in 2006 to keep the ambulances at the Colwood station. He was surprised to hear the service is threatened again.
“We weren’t notified. BC Ambulance has kept us completely in the dark about this,” he said.
Carby, a West Shore resident himself, says the reassignment of the ambulances is a 90 day trial and will be reviewed after that time.
But Logan intends to start fighting to have the decision reversed immediately. “It’s maddening to see our services downgraded,” he said. “It makes no sense. It’s a short sighted and puts lives at risk.”