The crew at the BC Emergency Health Services Station 348 in Williams Lake consists of lots of talent and great mentors, said Patti Thompson who has been the station’s unit chief since March of this year.
“They have lots of pride and passion in their job,” Thompson said of the 23 paramedics who work out of the station. “This station has four full-time positions and then we have an additional 19 of what we call part-time. Although some of these guys work very full time.”
Prior to coming to Williams Lake, Thompson worked with BCEHS in Hazelton for a year and a half, and before that in Quesnel for 27 years.
A unit chief is responsible for the crew and the ambulances.
“Right now we are mandated to have two ambulances manned 24/7,” she said. “For the first car, the crew are at the station waiting to be called out. For the other car the crew are at home on pagers.”
The station also has a medical support unit (MSU) ambulance for use in big crashes, she added.
Taking into account her decades of experience with BCEHS, Thompson described Williams Lake’s BCEHS as a “pretty busy” station.
“We are fortunate to have so many really good mentors because when we have new people come on, mentoring is really important,” Thompson said. “Our crews have a lot of pride in their job.”
During the last year, BCEHS has embarked on a paramedic prototype program up north that will be going into the rest of the province.
“It won’t be in Williams Lake, because it is considered urban, but in the rural and remote areas we are implementing community paramedic programs,” Thompson said. “This will involve PCP IV training for paramedics in smaller communities such as Alexis Creek and Anahim Lake.”
The positions for the Chilcotin are just over .53 full-time equivalent and will see paramedics providing services that may include checking blood pressure, assisting with diabetic care, helping to identify fall hazards, medication assessment, post-injury or illness evaluation and assisting with respiratory conditions.
The paramedics will perform assessments requested by a referring healthcare professional and record their findings for the patient’s file.
In a recent announcement about the program, the provincial government said the enhanced role will not replace care provided by health professionals such as nurses, but will complement and support their work.
The jobs in Anahim Lake and Alexis Creek are expected to be posted in September or October, Thompson said.
One of the first prototype stations for the community paramedic program is being installed in Hazelton where it was Thompson’s job to get it started.
“We are at the point where we’ve hired on the people that are going to take the two positions in Hazelton,” she said. “They are doing training and I’ll mentor them.”
Cariboo-Fraser district manager Blaine Wiggins rents an office at the Soda Creek Health Centre, and oversees eight stations serving approximately 40 First Nations and non-First Nations communities in the region.
Wiggins has been in the position the last four years and said he is an excluded manager, meaning that station chiefs like Thompson supervise the individual stations.
“My role is oversight for the district’s operations, budgeting, human resources and staffing — just the equivalent of what a fire chief would be,” Wiggins explained.
The district stretches almost to Bella Coola in the west, south to Merritt, north to McLeese Lake and east to Likely and Horsefly.
In his job he spends a lot of time working around the district, visiting different stations and clinics, meeting with Interior Health, the First Nations Health Authority and First Nations health services.
“We are always trying to improve our service,” Wiggins said. “One of the big changes in the organization is to reach out and engage to become partners with health authorities and local hospitals, versus the traditional method of us going and doing a call, bringing a patient to the hospital and that’s the end of it.”
The community paramedic program is going to help BC Ambulance have a much more engaged relationship in communities, he added.
“We won’t just be doing the 9-1-1 calls, but we will basically be helping people avoid calling 9-1-1 eventually,” he said, noting the real emphasis is for BCEHS to become more of a collaborative partner with agencies, health authorities and communities.
Even renting the office in Soda Creek has enabled Wiggins to be part of the district’s First Nations rural health community and tap into being in partnership with the health clinic there.
He also rents an office at Deni House in Williams Lake.
“We noticed almost immediately I was getting much more engagement with the different communities,” Wiggins noted. “Our plan is to keep going and keep having meetings with the communities directly.”
Wiggins echoed Thompson praising the paramedics stationed in Williams Lake.
“Many of the local crews are from Williams Lake and have spent their entire lives here,” he said. “It really is amazing how much people don’t know how dedicated they are and how much time they spend away from their families. Christmas Day, Boxing Day, birthdays, anniversaries — these crews are here.”
The Williams Lake station is a very busy station covering one of the most geographically challenging regions in the province, he added.
“In a big city there are layers of services, but here our crews work a lot independently because we don’t have anybody else coming.”
Often local crews work with the BCEHS air ambulance stationed in Kamloops.
“Based out of Kamloops we have a rotary wing helicopter for high duty calls or urgent medical calls such as stroke protocols. We also have what we call early fixed wing activation where we can launch an airplane.”
For example, if there was a major trauma event and it is evident the trauma capacity of the local hospital cannot fully service the patient’s needs, then as the ambulance service is transporting the patient to the local hospital, a critical care team is already on its way to then transport the patient as soon as he or she is stabilized, he explained.
While that is the emergency response of the air ambulance, the service also operates to transfer patients from one facility to another one.
“We may have a patient here in Williams Lake that is needing a higher level of care, such as a cardiac issue that needs a specialized surgeon, so we have our critical care teams flying in to transport patients to wherever they need to go in the province.”
The service will also transport patients home from places such as the spinal centre in Vancouver when they are stable, he added.