Ambulance wait times becoming a concern
Lengthy waiting times for ambulances in a few serious health incidents has officials in Lake Country asking its residents to watch out for their neighbours as the number of emergency calls increases, perhaps due to the region’s aging population.
Three separate life-threatening incidents in the past several months saw residents wait nearly an hour before an ambulance arrived. Two of those incidents were heart attacks and a third was an industrial accident.
“They were considered life-threatening and the first ambulances weren’t on the scene for 50 minutes,” said Lake Country fire chief Steve Windsor. “That seems more and more common. As B.C. Ambulance gets busier, we get busier and we are also seeing more out of town ambulances responding to accidents. It also gets more difficult for our paid-on-call department to respond as people have to leave their jobs.”
Windsor made the comments as part of his six-month report to council which outlined what calls the fire department had responded to during that time period. He said B.C. Ambulance is stretched thin in the Okanagan Valley and that means the Lake Country Fire Department is often the first on the scene.
Complicating the matter is Lake Country’s aging population including residents who live in retirement housing like the Blue Heron or the Lake Country Lodge and other areas of Lake Country that are home to retirees.
“These places have a lot of retired people and we’re finding more and more calls generated because of these institutions within Lake Country,” said Windsor. “As people get older they have more need for (ambulance) service and we are seeing our calls increase.”
Despite what appeared to be a trend to longer wait times, B.C. Ambulance says the average wait time for calls in 2011-12 was only thirteen minutes in Lake Country. Urgent call volume for the area was 486 events, an average of just over one call per day. There are 19 paramedics that staff the the Lake Country station and one ambulance is available 24 hours per day, seven days a week with a second unit on during the day, according to B.C. Ambulance.
“The B.C. Ambulance Service is dedicated to providing Lake Country residents with a responsive ambulance service,” said Kelsie Carwithen, manager of media relations for the B.C. Ambulance Service. “We recently added a dedicated helicopter air ambulance in Kamloops to serve the residents of the Interior including Lake Country.”
Despite that, several Lake Country councilors expressed concern with the high wait times at the three incidents.
Councilor Owen Dickie urged Lake Country residents to be aware of the senior population in the area noting that Lake Country has a much higher percentage of retirees than the Canadian average.
According to his own research, Dickie said almost 24 per cent of the Lake Country population is over 55 and 13 per cent of the population is over 65.
“That did concern me. Fifty minutes is quite awhile,” he said. “On long weekends it’s entirely possible (B.C. Ambulance) could be stretched thin enough that there may not be any coverage. As a community we need to be aware of older people living around us and be conscious or whether they are out and about.”
With the B.C. Ambulance Service stretched thin, the first response falls to the Lake Country Fire Department. The department consists of the fire chief, two assistant fire chiefs, an emergency services clerk, some maintenance personnel and up to 65 paid-on-call firefighters.
“The Lake Country Fire Department does amazing work for the district and surrounding communities,” said councilor Jamie McEwan.
“But further provincial funding for ambulance service expansion seems necessary based on the report we had at our meeting. I’m definitely concerned. It’s something we need to work towards improving in the long-run. We are very fortunate to have great first responders in our community. They are helping to fill that much-needed gap.”
B.C. Ambulance noted that ambulances are often used in different jurisdictions as they can travel to incidents and cover an area outside of its station.