Paramedics in BC are caring for more patients than ever before, including more patients suffering from suspected overdoses.
Since the provincial health officer declared a health emergency in the spring of 2016, we have been working with the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions, the BC Centre for Disease Control, the coroner's office, our first responder partners, health authorities and others to help solve the crisis.
In November 2016 the Province announced an additional $5 million of funding for BCEHS to assist with the overdose crisis. BCEHS implemented a number of strategies to boost ambulance resources and staffing:
- Deploying paramedic teams using more nimble modes of transportation, such as bicycles and ATVs, in high overdose areas in Vancouver and Surrey
- Using more paramedic response units, whereby an advanced care paramedic (highly trained paramedic) is in an SUV and can act quickly to assist fire department first responders and other paramedics in ambulances
- Adding extra paramedic staff and resources in Vancouver, Surrey, Squamish and Mission
- Adding resources to the 9-1-1 dispatch centres
- Expanding the Vancouver Dispatch Centre’s ability to monitor and triage complex cases
- Adding extra ambulances and stationary 'medical support units' to neighbourhoods with high volumes of overdoses, including the downtown eastside of Vancouver and a high overdose area of Surrey, in partnership with the BC Centre for Disease Control and the province's Joint Task Force on Overdose Response
- Adding extra ambulances in Victoria, as well as a community medical support unit on standby equipped with medical supplies and blankets
- Offering a number of psychosocial supports to paramedics, dispatchers and other front line staff to help them cope with the occupational stresses they face
- Piloting health authority liaison officers (HALOs) in the Fraser and Vancouver Coastal regions. HALOs worked with emergency department staff to reduce emergency department turnaround time,so paramedics could more quickly return to the field, and to improve the patient experience.
- This pilot resulted in significant decreases at emergency departments across Vancouver and the Fraser Valley.
- BCEHS worked closely with hospital staff and we appreciate the collaborative effort from our health authority partners.
- Helping staff facilitate the rapid turnaround of ambulances at emergency departments is now incorporated into the scope of practice of BCEHS supervisors and managers.
- The HALO pilot concluded in November 2017.
BCEHS is closely tracking the overdose situation all around the province and will determine on an ongoing basis where added resources are needed, based on that monitoring. There is no set number of paramedics allocated in a given area (such as overdose prevention sites), but BCEHS assigns existing staff based on demand. This includes deliberately placing paramedics close to those sites to cut down response time and to be proactive in strategically deploying our crews.