Accidents are just that – accidental. As such, we never know when a major or minor catastrophe may befall us, a friend, or a neighbour. Each time I hear sirens, I send out a prayer for the person needing support. Willing that all will be well for them, their families. With what I’ve learned lately, I’m adding a prayer of gratitude that a paramedic was on call and available to attend to those in distress.

British Columbia Emergency Health Services (BCEHS) is an essential service. It provides life-saving medical support and transport as a timely, critical link in effective patient care.

BC Ferries’ inability to provide reliable after hours transport is only one element of an increasingly broken emergency support system. Tragically, Islanders often don’t learn just how dysfunctional the system has become until faced with a critical situation. Patient outcomes are being directly affected and lives are literally at stake: the big-hearted paramedics of the Quadra Ambulance Station are heroic under the circumstances.

Recently I’ve learned there are often several days a month with a complete absence of paramedic coverage on Quadra. Additionally, there are many shifts where there is only one paramedic available: these are further days we don’t have reliable medical coverage given the ambulance is unable to run without both that single paramedic and a driver. You may wonder, how then are patients transported? With the generous help of Quadra Island Fire Department (QIFD) volunteers.

These community members, volunteer firefighters, are on call through the Fire Department pager system responding to Ambulance calls. The ethics and community compassion of the South Quadra Island Fire Improvement District are propping up the failing provincial system. I have immense gratitude for these volunteers and grave concerns about ongoing availability and inevitable burnout.

There is an undeniable acute shortage of paramedics. I hear there are some blocks of time where only one ambulance is available to serve the entirety of Campbell River. In such a situation, what is the likelihood an ambulance would be dispatched to Quadra to attend to a medical emergency, if Quadra had no paramedic availability at that time?

Many rural paramedics confirm BCEHS undervalues rural emergency workers, offering convoluted scheduling, unrealistic expectations before providing benefits and an undervalued pay scale. It’s high time emergency medicine providers are treated fairly and compensated properly for the important service they provide, no matter the location they work. Investing in solutions to these systemic barriers will go a long way toward resolving current staff shortages and assuring the well-being and community safety on Quadra Island and across rural communities throughout the province.

Is expecting volunteers to keep the ambulance running a viable long term solution? I think not. I’ve written to BC’s Health Minister the Honourable Adrian Dix and Leanne Heppell BC’s Chief Ambulance Officer expressing my dismay and urging them to make this a priority. I emphasized the urgent need for solutions which provide functional full time staffing for rural and remote stations, something we are already paying for with our taxes. Small communities deserve adequate and appropriate emergency services. This could be critical to the potential survival of a loved one, a friend, a neighbour. Or me, or you.

If you’d like to add your voice to this issue, the email address for BC’s Minister of Health is HLTH.Minister@gov.bc.ca.

This is the letter I wrote to Minister Dix:

A letter to BC's Minister of Health regarding the rural emergency services crisis