Historically, BCEHS has relied heavily on ‘on-call’ staffing for its ambulances in rural and remote communities. Paramedics make themselves available for shifts, often around other jobs and commitments, without a guarantee of reliable pay. This has made it difficult to attract and retain paramedics in smaller communities and has presented some challenges ensuring ambulances are always staffed.
This staffing challenge was addressed head-on in changes introduced in the 2019-2022 collective agreement with the union that represents B.C. paramedics and dispatch staff, the Ambulance Paramedics and Dispatchers Association of BC.
As a result of commitments made in the agreement, BCEHS has created more than 500 new permanent paramedic positions.
Among the changes is a new type of position called the ‘Scheduled On-Call’ (SOC) model. It means permanent regular positions with guaranteed wages and full health benefits for the first time in many rural and remote communities.
The Scheduled On-Call model means that shifts can be fully scheduled, without waiting for the availability of on-call paramedics. It also introduces regular permanent supervisory unit chief positions in certain ambulance stations where unit chiefs were serving in on-call positions. Some areas will also see additional community paramedic services.
The transition to this new staffing model is being implemented in phases during 2021, beginning on Vancouver Island. Plans for ambulance stations elsewhere in the province are still being finalized. Overall, the Scheduled On-Call model will be creating 220 regular positions in the province’s rural and remote communities.
Hundreds of other (non-SOC) permanent positions are also being created in urban, rural and remote communities as BCEHS gradually ends the practice of ‘standby’ staffing, and by converting temporary ambulance placements to permanent ones.
All of the staffing changes throughout the province are based on in-depth analysis of 911 and hospital transfer call volumes as well as current BCEHS resources in ambulance stations that serve these communities. To ensure resources are best allocated to serve patients, and to ensure that paramedic workloads support employee well-being, we will monitor and adjust the changes as needed.
These changes are exciting and necessary for improvements to happen, yet there’s no doubt this transitional period is also a challenging time for some BCEHS employees who have dedicated themselves to serving in on-call positions for many years. BCEHS appreciates this incredible dedication and is working to support employees through this major transformation of our service model.
[Article updated June 15, 2021]