The province’s largest 911 dispatch service, E-Comm, on Wednesday announced that people calling an ambulance will be on their own after being assessed by the initial dispatcher and waiting to be transferred to a dispatcher. ambulance. says an average of 45 seconds under normal circumstances, but takes “significantly longer” due to increased demand for ambulance services. E-Comm said the new measure would free dispatchers during this time to take new calls, especially police and fire calls, which account for 70% of all 911 calls.
E-Comm President and CEO Oliver Grüter-Andrew said it was a temporary measure until more staff can be hired.
A press release from the Emergency Communications Professionals of BC (CUPE local 8911) condemned the change, saying the wait for an ambulance dispatcher to pick up can take “several minutes” and has been longer than 20 minutes in some cases. .
The union said that, as circumstances can change quickly in emergency situations, protocol has always been for E-Comm operators to stay on the line until contact with the specialist dispatcher is made.
“We’re meant to be there to be a lifeline and support for callers in times of need,” said Donald Grant, longtime dispatcher and president of CUPE Local 8911.
Grant said it is imperative that the caller pass the information to the dispatcher if the caller loses consciousness or becomes unable to respond while waiting.
“People will call 911 maybe once or twice in their life and at this point they need to have someone to walk them through this process. They have so many other stressors that they need to have someone online with them. “
Health Minister Adrian Dix said it was a step taken by E-Comm to deal with a sharp increase in call volume.
“When you call 911, you want a quick response. This is the measure taken by the E-Comm side… to improve and go faster with the resources at their disposal. ”
Dix said BC Emergency Health Services (BCEHS) had been hiring dispatchers and paramedics since the summer, a move that was announced in response to BC’s deadly heat wave in June.
“These are very difficult times for emergency health services in British Columbia. There are more calls, ”Dix said.
An external review by PriceWaterhouseCoopers found that E-Comm needed to add 125 more call takers to the 153 currently employed in order to meet operational demand.
When transferred to ambulance services, callers will now be notified that they are in the queue of an ambulance dispatcher and that their 911 call partner needs to disconnect to answer other incoming calls.
Grüter-Andrew said that while the long-term solution is more funding and staff, this measure is an immediate solution until more staff can be hired and trained.
“It’s important to provide emotional support. We always have. We are doing it for a good reason. But when you are faced with a situation of limited resources… you have to prioritize in the short term, ”Grüter-Andrew mentioned.