B.C.'s official healthcare critic is calling on Health Minister Adrian Dix to address the recent death of an eight-month-old baby from Barriere who reportedly died waiting for an ambulance.
BC Liberal Shirley Bond told Glacier Media Dix needs to explain how ambulance services are improving, especially since the June 2021 "heat dome" resulted in 600 heat-related deaths, as people waited hours for an ambulance.
“What the minister should be doing is standing up and taking responsibility for the fact that the changes that he announced, apparently are not seeing the results that one would have expected. It is about results,” said Bond. “And it's fine and dandy to make announcements. But there needs to be the follow up that says, ‘Is this working?’ And when a child has to die in British Columbia and seniors in other parts of the province, obviously, there's more work to be done.”
BC Emergency Health Services (BCEHS), which oversees ambulance services, stated Monday it is now conducting a review of the Aug. 25 medical emergency.
“Our deepest condolences go out to the family and the community at this heartbreaking loss,” stated BCEHS spokesperson Lesley Pritchard.
It was 7:55 p.m. on Aug. 25 when the Barriere first responder team got a call from BCEHS that an infant was in cardiac distress, according to team leader Drew McMartin.
McMartin says their volunteers were dispatched and the team provided CPR care for 20 minutes before an ambulance arrived.
Troy Clifford, president of the Ambulance Paramedics of BC, told media on Aug. 28 the ambulance was serving near Kamloops at the time of the emergency. Barriere is about 65 kilometres north of Kamloops.
“It’s heartbreaking to hear reports that an ambulance and paramedics were not immediately available in someone’s time of need. This is easily one of the worst situations anyone can imagine,” said Clifford via a statement Aug. 29.
Barriere's first responder team is always dispatched in life-threatening situations, said McMartin.
Barriere Mayor Ward Stamer is calling for public answers regarding the baby’s death.
“Not only are we sad that we've lost another young member in our community, and we don't know the circumstances of what actually happened in that call, whether the delay in the ambulance service made a difference in what actually happened or not, so I'm not going to speculate on that. But I mean, all our communities in rural areas of B.C. have been having these types of incidences,” said Stamer.
The mayor also said he would like to see the first responder volunteers be able to transport patients to nearby Royal Inland Hospital in Kamloops; however, McMartin rejects that idea, calling instead for more paramedics.
“We do not transport nor are we looking to transport to any health-care facility,” said McMartin, calling increased reliance on volunteers a slippery slope.
Stamer said BCEHS has told him a new paramedic has been hired, but won’t arrive until January. McMartin says rural paramedics are only paid by the call and otherwise receive $2 per hour for being on call.
“There’s enough ambulances in the province; the issue is they aren’t being staffed,” said McMartin. (Volunteer first responders are trained for 40 hours whereas paramedics receive over 1,000 hours of training, according to McMartin.)
Bond says she hasn’t heard from Dix on the incident, one she describes as a poignant moment in B.C.’s health-care crisis.
“If you live in British Columbia, and you dial 911, you should get help... the loss of an infant is absolutely devastating and hard to even comprehend in this province,” said Bond.
Bond chalks up the issues to human resources mismanagement.
“We have an overworked and underserved ambulance system in the province. There are so many challenges right now in health care, that what I am deeply concerned about is the fact that British Columbians, many of them have told me they are afraid that they will not have the care they need, when they need it,” said Bond.
McMartin said more training and retention of paramedics through better funding is required.
Glacier Media asked Dix to comment on the incident and ambulance services Monday morning but never received a response.