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RDCK seeks meeting on rural ambulance staffing

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The Regional District of Central Kootenay is seeking a meeting with provincial officials to talk about shortages in local ambulance staffing.

Chair Aimee Watson says the board wants to meet with the BC Ambulance Service and BC Emergency Health Service to talk about how changes to the staffing model are leaving some communities without coverage at times.

“The board is seeking to bring to the attention of the appropriate authorities that most of our communities are experiencing severe shortages of paramedics,” she says.

“The new system put in place, while it works in some areas, is actually causing the opposite effect [in others]. We have what I would call dark days and times with zero paramedics available.”

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Watson says that is causing increased pressure on both paramedics as well as first responders — volunteer firefighters and search and rescue organizations — who are picking up the slack.

She says the good news is that those groups work “amazingly well together” and show “phenomenal” commitment, but she is still worried about access to emergency medical care.

In her area, she says they don’t have enough paramedics to cover some of their biggest events this summer.

No date has been set for the meeting, and Watson says before it happens, they need to meet first with member municipalities and rural areas to get a handle on the problem and potential solutions.

Rural staffing is “extremely complex,” she says.

“The intention is not to say ‘We have a problem, fix it’ without addressing how it can be fixed. We need to understand how the staffing positions work in rural areas to fine tune what the ask would be. I have no interest in yelling at people. I want to see solutions.”

Watson says she believes changes implemented to the staffing model last year were well-intentioned, but it has not worked out in places such as Kaslo, New Denver, Nakusp, and Slocan. Paramedics in those areas are frequently called to cover for each other, she says, which can result in some areas having no coverage.

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