The mayor of Ashcroft is raising the alarm about a lack of ambulances and medical care in her community after a person went into cardiac arrest on Sunday, July 17 and no ambulance was available.
The incident occurred at a residential complex in the 700 block of Elm Street; the same block as the ambulance station and the Ashcroft Hospital and Community Health Care Centre. However, with no ambulance available locally, one had to be called from Clinton, half-an-hour away.
The hospital emergency department was also closed on the weekend due to “limited physician availability,” according to a public service announcement sent by Interior Health on Friday, July 15.
“This tragic event highlights the ongoing staffing issues within both Interior Health and the BC Emergency Health Service. A resident in medical distress within a stone’s throw of both an ambulance station and a hospital could not obtain rapid assistance, because there were no ambulances in town and the hospital was closed,” Ashcroft Mayor Barbara Roden said.
The location is within the fire response area, but members of Ashcroft Fire Rescue are not trained as medical first responders. A member of Ashcroft Fire Rescue did respond as a private citizen.
The Ashcroft emergency department is usually open Friday from 5 to 10 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. These hours have been in place since January when they were implemented as a “temporary” measure due to staff shortages throughout IH due to COVID-19. Previously, the ER was open from 6 p.m. Friday to 8 a.m. Monday.
“Residents of rural communities are increasingly frightened by the lack of medical services when they need them,” Roden said. “What they see is a health care system that is lurching from one crisis to another, continually applying bandaids when surgery is needed. Interior Health and BCEHS need to find and implement solutions now, or we are going to see more and more of these tragedies.”
BC Emergency Health Services said in a statement on July 19 that “our deepest condolences are with this patient’s family at this difficult time” and it is reviewing the call.
Spokeswoman Lesley Pritchard confirmed BCEHS received a call to respond to a patient at the residential complex at 11:23 a.m. on July 17. The closest available ambulance was dispatched one minute later at 11:24 a.m. and firefighter first responders were requested to assist, she said.
The ambulance paramedic crew arrived on scene at 11:50 a.m. to take over care from the firefighter first responder on scene.
“BCEHS is a provincial service with no municipal boundaries and we use a dynamic deployment model to make the most of available resources to respond to our patients,” Pritchard said in the statement.
“We know it is stressful waiting for an ambulance and we will be reviewing this call given the lengthier response time for this type of call.”
She noted that in order to provide care as “quickly as possible in life-threatening calls,” BCEHS notifies firefighter first responders to provide critical first aid such as CPR while paramedics are en route. BCEHS call takers in dispatch can also provide CPR coaching and other first aid instructions to callers while first responders are on the way.
Pritchard added that BCEHS has been experiencing some staffing challenges and since last year, in partnership with the government of B.C., has made some significant changes and investments to improve staffing.
Interior Health has referred all questions concerning the matter to BCEHS.
Since 2021, BCEHS has added more than 500 new full-time and part-time permanent paramedic positions in rural and remote areas, and at least 125 in urban areas. A national recruitment campaign is also underway to fill vacant positions.