Big White’s loss may be Lake Country’s gain

Big White is questioning the decision by the B.C. Ambulance Service to station an ambulance in Lake Country instead of at the resort.

B.C. Ambulance Service has decided to pull the ambulance and crew it has stationed at Big White Ski Resort in previous years and relocate it to Lake Country.

For the first time in 20 years, the Big White Ski Resort will not have a B.C. Ambulance stationed at the ski hill this season.

Management at the resort are questioning the decision by the B.C. Ambulance Service to pull the ambulance just weeks before the opening of another ski season.

After an operational review of ambulance services in the Kelowna area, the B.C. Ambulance Service (BCAS) decided to relocate the ambulance that had been deployed at Big White in past years and station it in Lake Country.

“This change will not result in a reduction in service for the region,” stated the BCAS in an email to the Capital News, the Calendar’s sister newspaper. “In fact, the amount of time that the paramedics will be actively providing patient care is expected to increase two or three times compared to when the ambulance was based at Big White.”

BCAS also stated that in past years the ambulance at Big White was responding to just one call per day and was only in operation for half the year while it will now provide year-round coverage to the Okanagan Valley area.

But the decision to remove the ambulance from Big White is causing concern at the resort which sees more than 600,000 skier visits each season.

“This is a bad decision and it needs to be over-turned,” said Michael Ballingall, Big White’s senior vice-president of sales and marketing.

“The last thing we want is to have someone suffer because the ambulance service is so far away or, God forbid, someone passes away because the medical services are unavailable.”

Ballingall said he has anecdotal evidence of the need for the ambulance, including one email he received from a skier who suffered a heart attack in a lift line before being attended to by BCAS paramedics and taken to hospital in the ambulance.

“If it had not been for the immediate care and attention I received from the EMS at Big White and in the ambulance down to Kelowna General, I could very well not be here today,” wrote the man, who Ballingall said asked to remain anonymous.

Ballingall has met with local politicians asking that they look into the situation.

He also said BCAS call numbers at Big White are skewed to the low side as many people opt to call the Big White Ski Patrol if they are injured, instead of calling 911.

In an e-mail, a BCAS official stated that Big White was the only ski hill in British Columbia to have an ambulance station based at the resort and that the new service model is in line with how BCAS provides service to other ski resorts in B.C.

It said that Big White residents and visitors will continue to receive ambulance service via ground from Kelowna and by a helicopter based in Kamloops, with medical care being offered by the Big White Ski Patrol and local first responders until an ambulance arrives.

But Ballignall said it wasn’t good enough.

“In B.C. our safety net is not private enterprise it’s the B.C. Ambulance,” he said. “The Ski Patrol is a professional, volunteer organization and they don’t have the equipment, the qualifications or the licenses to do what a B.C. Ambulance can do. This is going to put undo stress on volunteers and paid members of our staff.”

B.C. Ambulance says it will continue to monitor call volumes in the Kelowna area and make changes to the services as required.