An infant in B.C.’s Interior was one of the latest patients in the province left to wait too long for potentially life-saving care.
Global News has learned a child under 12 months old suffered a fatal cardiac arrest in Barriere Thursday and although BC Emergency Health Services said the closest available ambulance was dispatched, the union representing B.C. paramedics said the local Barriere ambulance crews were assisting with calls out of town, and had to return home to respond to the baby’s medical emergency.
Barriere, which is 64 kilometres north of Kamloops or about a 45 minute drive away, has a population of just over 1,700.
“I just can’t fathom how this can happen in today’s world,” said Ambulance Paramedics of BC president Troy Clifford.
The district has had 24-hour ambulance coverage since last summer, when following the heat dome, Mayor Ward Stamer said the province switched Barriere to a 24/7 Alpha station, requiring paramedics with a higher level of training.
Stamer said not enough of the specialized paramedics were hired from the Lower Mainland and elsewhere to fill the gaps in his community.
“Our paramedics are really overworked and understaffed,” said Highway 5 resident Bryan Beler.
“If your health isn’t good and the ambulance isn’t available, it’s a little scary,” added Margie Kramer, a resident of Barriere for 32 years.
The infant went into cardiac arrest inside Barriere municipal boundaries Thursday. An ambulance was called and the union said there were some delays around the response times. The baby did not survive.
“In this situation, any delay in a critical situation like this is fundamentally wrong,” said Clifford.
BC Emergency Health Services is reviewing the call but refused to say exactly how long the response time was, or explain the reason for the delay.
The Ambulance Paramedics of BC said if Kamloops’ two stations are busy or short of ambulances, Barriere paramedics sometimes head south to help.
“From what I understand as reported on this day is they were called into Kamloops to assist with calls and coverage in Kamloops as opposed to staying in Barriere to make sure they had coverage there.”
“That’s not right,” said Mayor Stamer. “We need our ambulance service to be there, to be able to protect the people when we need it and not just steal our resources so that they can go to a larger centre.”
Clifford said he’s hopeful BCEHS is addressing the situation and getting provincial postings out to fill ambulance staffing vacancies and hire new people – but said the wages and benefits’ disparity is hurting the ambulance service’s ability to recruit.
“We need to address the staffing issues so that we don’t have these scenarios anymore,” Clifford told Global News.
Clifford said his members are devastated over Thursday’s call and being treated and looked after through the APBC’s critical incident stress management program.
Stamer meantime, said Barriere is forced to lean on its first responders.
“Maybe rely on our volunteer firefighters and in a lot of cases just throw that person in the back of a vehicle and head to the hospital just like we did 50 years ago – that’s where we’re at.”
“We’re really worried and we don’t know when Barriere is going to get back to normal,” said resident Matthew Beaudoin.
“It’s the health care system that’s lagging, you know, we’re struggling with it,” said Beler.
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