A decision that would have negatively impacted the ambulance service level for 24 rural B.C. communities, including Ashcroft, has been reversed, following an outcry about the effects on response times and staffing levels.
Ashcroft will be classed as a station with 24/7 Alpha coverage, which means a 90-second response time to calls. The paramedics providing that coverage will now have full-time jobs.
In June of this year, BC Emergency Health Services (BCEHS) announced that it would be introducing a new system across the province for rural and remote stations — including Ashcroft — called Scheduled On-Call (SOC). According to BCEHS, the changes would improve emergency response coverage and create a more stable paramedic workforce.
However, paramedics in some of those stations stated that they feared the changes could prove fatal.
Under SOC, select stations including Ashcroft would have seen a reduction in service, going from 24-hour manned ambulance stations to being staffed for only eight hours per day. For the remaining 16 hours, paramedics would have been on-call.
Paramedics feared that during those 16 unmanned hours, response times would increase dramatically, going from an average of 1.5 minutes to get an ambulance on the road, to anywhere from 10 to 20 minutes or more. There were also fears that the change would make it more difficult to staff those stations. On-call paramedics receive $2 per hour, although they receive full pay when responding to a call.
Some 90 ambulance stations in B.C. would have been affected by the change to SOC. While it would improve service in some small stations where paramedics are on-call around the clock — resulting in them being staffed for eight hours per day — it would have decreased the staffing in other stations, such as Ashcroft.
Following widespread negative reaction to the proposed changes, the Ministry of Health sent out a communication in early August stating that it would “direct BCEHS to bring forward an assessment, recommendations, and an action plan to the Minister by the end of September on the conversion of up to 22 pre-hospital SOC stations to 24/7 ALPHA stations to enhance ambulance coverage for these communities.” Two more communities were subsequently added to the list, which includes Ashcroft, Lillooet, Barriere, and Clearwater.
On Aug. 6, a memo to all BCEHS employees and ambulance paramedics confirmed that Ashcroft was among the stations that would be converting to a 24/7 ALPHA station. “Positions … will be posted on August 9, 2021 with the conversion to Alpha-scheduled shifts to activate on October 29, 2021… At the end of the conversion process these stations will have a total complement of eight full-time positions.”