OUT OF LEFT FIELD: Proud of my paramedics, ashamed of my community's treatment of them

Kyra Hoggan
By Kyra Hoggan
March 30th, 2018

Even I got snowed into thinking, at first, that the announcement of four new full-time paramedic positions in Castlegar is good news. Now, I’m torn between feeling heartsick, outraged, and not a little ashamed.

In the interest of full disclosure, I’ll start with the positive aspects of this announcement.

The community paramedic position is, I think, absolutely brilliant. In taking a pro-active (rather than responsive) approach to community health, they’ll be providing better patient care, saving the tax payers a whack of cash, and freeing up acute-care hospital beds. There’s simply no way in which this move is not a significant win for Castlegar, as far as I can discern.

The upside of three fulltime acute-situation positions is that it will offer three paramedics real careers, with benefits and all the other perks that will attract families here to grow roots and really invest in our city. Also excellent.

So what’s the problem?

Well, the gentlest of the downsides is that it’s a bit of a con job, insofar as the community is celebrating while not realizing that, in terms of boots-on-the-ground emergency care, exactly nothing has changed. We have two ambulances (three, if you count the back-up car, but only two of them are in service at any given time). We could hire 100, heck 1,000, fulltime paramedics, and we still have just two ambulances carrying two paramedics each. Unless we want the rest of them to show up to our devastating car crashes in their 1996 Toyota Corolla (we don’t pay them very much), then the status quo remains unchanged.

And saying we have two ambulances is kind of a wild reach, since at least one of them is so often tied up with non-acute transfers to other hospitals in Trail, Kelowna, etc.  Now bear in mind, if paramedics bring a patient into hospital from a 9-1-1 call, the hospital has a 40-minute window to accept care of said patient, or the paramedics can just leave. BUT – and this is what’s really hurting us – if they bring in a non-acute transfer, they become glorified couriers. If the hospital wants a CT scan or an angiogram or what-have-you before deciding to admit the patient, the paramedics have to cool their heels waiting for said tests, moving the patient from department to department, and essentially (in my opinion) wasting their time (often their entire shift) until the hospital decides whether to admit the patient.

And for all that time, they are away from the community, and Castlegar is left with half-level service at best.

But none of this is why I’m so upset.

To me, the true outrage and horror of this … this travesty … is that in my tenure here, I have found Castlegar to be a loving, caring, grateful and generous community. For us to treat our paramedics the way they are about to be treated makes me feel physically sick.

Because of the union structure, paramedics province-wide with full-time hours and seniority will get first dibs at the Castlegar positions.

So the men and women who have so tirelessly, thanklessly, self-sacrificingly done a truly brutal, bloody and traumatic job for us for years and years, but only with part-time pay, having to hold down two or three jobs to cobble together enough income to pay the bills … the people who have juggled bizarre and varied hours to show up every time we needed them (several of whom, not incidentally, also serve as volunteer fire fighters and military members), are going to get the very dregs of the night shifts that are left after we move other people in from other parts of the province to take their jobs.

Bottom line, these people who have always been there for us despite poor hours, crappy pay and wrenching work, who have chosen to accept the second-class-citizen status compared to their counterparts in larger centres, who have invested in our community, shopped, bought homes, adopted pets here … these people who are the very personification of the word ‘service’ … will be left with three choices: leave their chosen field for some other line of work, starve, or move to some other community – hopefully one which will treat them with even a fraction of the respect and appreciation they deserve.

Unlike Castlegar.

Part of me hopes they do just that – because if we figuratively spit on their constant, caring and exemplary service by shunting them to the side this way, we don’t deserve them.

Categories: Op/Ed