Fix staff shortage and properly fund BC Ambulance Paramedics, says union

CINDY McQueen, President of CUPE Local 389 (North Vancouver), on Tuesday said that she was very concerned about recent comments from a group of mayors who proposed to address the problem of ambulance response times by having firefighters carry out some of the duties of paramedics.

McQueen added that the real solution was for municipal councils to instead work with the provincial government and the BC Ambulance Paramedics to immediately fix the staff shortage and properly fund this essential service that literally saves lives.

She said: “Firstly, it is my understanding that the firefighters have no appetite to do more work on top of their already stressful workloads. You need only to attend a budget meeting in many municipalities to hear the distressing stories our firefighters face every day as a result of understaffing. The shortage of doctors in our province has not resulted in suggestions that the issue be resolved by having nurses take up the slack, because nurses face their own staffing and work challenges. Similarly, we don’t propose to manage understaffing of fire departments with volunteer firefighters.  Municipalities understand that taking on a new service, its cost and administration, would further strain the already straining municipal budgets and is not a long-term or sustainable solution.”

McQueen pointed out: “These understaffing problems did not just happen overnight, they are a result of massive cutting of these and other community services over many years. We have come to know over the past year the unbelievable dedication provided by these front-line workers going far and beyond the call.  In addition to shortages of staff,  paramedics have been hit hard in responding to the ongoing opioid crisis as well as a pandemic resulting in a skyrocketing of calls related to mental health and isolation.”

According to the Ambulance Paramedics of BC, 60 to 100 paramedics need to be hired just in the Metro Vancouver area.  When you have one quarter of the ambulances across the Lower Mainland understaffed and 30 ambulances are parked and out of service due to staff shortages, there is clearly a crisis in the ambulance service, McQueen said.    

She said she supports the call from Troy Clifford, President of the Ambulance Paramedics of BC (CUPE Local 873) for immediate intervention and support from all levels of government and the ministry to address the need for more staff and resources in communities to provide timely medical care, treatment and transport, by paramedics who are highly trained to provide these services.

“This understaffing has been a tragedy in waiting and now has become critical,” said McQueen. “If you want to ask someone who is devastated by what is happening, ask a paramedic.”

CUPE Local 389 compromises workers in municipalities, K-12, community services, libraries, recreation and culture sectors on the North Shore and Sea-to-Sky.