CASTLEGAR – A lively Castlegar crowd of more than 75 citizens was on hand Tuesday night for a town hall meeting on the state of the area’s ambulance services.
People came from outlying communities including Fruitvale, Genelle, Nelson and as far away as Grand Forks to discuss ambulance response times and meet their local paramedics. Much of the evening was spent on tactics to let the provincial government know that every community in B.C. deserves the best Ambulance service possible.
Nelson paramedic Corey Viala, recalled a day early in his career when he attended a fatal motor vehicle accident and delivered a baby at the same location. Corey talked about the deterioration of ambulance service in the Kootenays. He noted that when he started nearly 20 years ago Trail had 10 fulltime paramedics – now there are only three. In Castlegar, where the call volume has jumped 97%in seven years, no additional ambulances have been added.
CUPE Local 873 first vice-president Bronwyn Barter started her career as a paramedic in the Kootenays. She talked about having to leave her home in the Kootenays in order to get a fulltime job. Most fulltime paramedic jobs are located in the Lower Mainland, leading to significant recruitment and retention issues – especially in more rural areas.
Bronwyn talked about the plight of new paramedics who invest $10,000 in their own training only to be on-call with pagers for $2 an hour. Close to two-thirds of BC paramedics are part time. Bronwyn pointed to the lack of respect ambulance paramedics feel from the provincial government and the BC Ambulance Service and thanked the public for their support.
Heather Inglis, CUPE BC’s strong communities coordinator, shocked the audience with ambulance 911 wait times in the West Kootenays. In Fruitvale the average wait is more than 20 minutes for an ambulance just to reach your house. Heather also focused on the government’s ongoing disregard for workers’ rights, particularly in health care. Heather asked the community to get involved by contacting their MLA and the Premier. She also encouraged them to talk to their mayors and councillors about taking this issue on with the provincial government.
The evening ended with a lively Q&A period. The audience had a chance to speak with local paramedics and unit chiefs and express their appreciation for the work they do.