Golden paramedic frustrated with BCAS

A local paramedic has become increasingly disgruntled with B.C. Ambulance's staffing and hiring practices.

A local paramedic (who wished to remain anonymous and be referred to as PR for the safety of their job)  has become increasingly disgruntled with British Columbia Ambulance Service’s (BCAS) staffing and hiring practices as well as what PR calls part-time wages for a full-time job.

“I have not reached my boiling point but I am getting more and more frustrated with the system. I work a lot of hours at my job just to make ends meet. I love my work and have thought extensively about doing something else but I keep hoping something will change with BCAS,” PR said.

According to the local paramedic, BCAS has significant challenges with retaining staff in Golden because of demanding shift work and low pay scales. Not surprisingly, many paramedics ask for transfers from Golden to larger cities where full-time jobs are more plentiful and the shifts are less demanding.

In Golden, BCAS has two cars that it tries to staff 24 hours a day and seven days a week.    The FOX car is the service’s “up” car and KILO is the service’s second, backup car.

For the FOX car, staff members must stay at the station and wait for a call. Staff earn a stipend while at the station, and that rate is not subject to overtime or vacation, meaning their wage remains constant even on federal holidays.

The KILO car is staffed by members who are paid a smaller stipend to carry a pager. Staff are expected to make it to the station within 15 minutes of any call and the KILO car is typically used for transfers to Cranbrook or Calgary.

A call out bumps staff members up to their full wage for a minimum of four hours.

In 2012 and 2013, BCAS in Golden responded to 406 pre-hospital calls and performed 248 inter-city transfers, a figure that amounts to about two calls per day.

According to BCAS Media Relations Manager Kelsie Carwithen paramedic jobs in Golden are advertised as part-time jobs, rather than full-time jobs.

“BCAS stations in rural and remote B.C. operate similar to volunteer fire departments. Staff submit availability to BCAS and are scheduled to fill shifts based on the availability they provide. BCAS continues to hire staff to fill vacancies as employees adjust their availability based on other work,” Carwithen said.

However, the local paramedic says they recently completed a 36 hour FOX shift and that a colleague recently did a 144 hour shift for both the FOX and KILO cars.

“I am not sure how this can be considered part-time but our collective agreement made it so,” PR said.

Because BCAS is said to provide an essentiel service, the ability to strike is not an option for BCAS workers, giving them little recourse.

Carwithen says that BCAS is recruiting new staff in order to deal with staffing shortages and that it has been actively working to identify potential staff. Since January, two new staff have been hired in Golden, one of which is a driver only who is working towards an Emergency Medical Responder qualification.

The local paramedic doesn’t agree with BCAS’s decision to hire a driver-only staff member, but according to Carwithen, having a driver on staff isn’t an issue.

“It’s important to note that there is only one driver-only staff member in Golden,” Carwithen said. “Driver-only staff are always paired with a qualified paramedic when they respond to calls. They are responsible for driving the ambulance and do not provide patient care.”

According to PR, however, that isn’t enough to meet patient needs as many calls require two attendants, such as cardiac arrests and multiple vehicle accidents.

“Not only that, but it dilutes the already low-level of care provided in rural B.C.,” PR said. “There are no scheduling processes or rules in place to prevent a “rookie” from working with a driver-only either. It’s a tough environment for people to learn or thrive in.”

The local paramedic has thought about transferring out of Golden, but is reluctant to do so because of how much they enjoy living in this town.

“I moved here because I love everything it has to offer for me and my family,” PR said. “Hopefully I will not be forced to leave the community I love to move to the lower mainland to get a “full-time” job. I hope that BCAS will recognize the value of its local rural paramedics and start paying them a liveable wage.”

According to PR, their opinion with regards to BCAS is far from unique.

“I would say that the majority of rural paramedics that are “part-timers” are very frustrated with the current system. Morale is perilously low throughout the province.”