B.C. Emergency Health Services ambulance station at Langley Memorial Hospital. (Black Press files)

Firefighters may be needed for paramedic apartment access, experts say

Better coordination recommended in urban B.C. 9-1-1 calls

A woman who bled to death in her East Vancouver apartment last year could have been treated more quickly with better communication between 9-1-1 dispatchers, paramedics and the fire department, an expert review has found.

A review by two medical experts describes paramedics responding to the woman’s distress call in November 2018, where they first had trouble getting in the front door of a building. Then couldn’t get through a second set of elevators to reach her sixth-floor room, because a security fob was required.

It took 35 minutes from the original call to reaching the scene, by which time the woman had no pulse and could not be resuscitated, the report says.

The building is one of the Downtown Eastside facilities taken over and renovated by B.C. Housing, completed in 2015. It had a lock box at the entrance with keys and fob for emergency access, but access to that was available only to the Vancouver Fire Department.

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Health Minister Adrian Dix called it a “tragic case” and said his ministry will work with B.C. Emergency Health Services to implement the 14 recommendations made in the case review, by two emergency physicians. Most of them deal with better communication and coordination between firefighters and paramedics.

“The Ministry of Health will work to support the implementation and recommendations which are focused on ensuring clear and robust processes to gain rapid access to multi-unit buildings and better communication between agencies for emergency cases,” Dix said in a statement released by the ministry.

In many regions of B.C., where even 35-minute ambulance response is unlikely, B.C.’s ambulance dispatch system changes made last year have prompted debate at the Union of B.C. Municipalities convention this week. Those regions want more use of medically trained volunteers.

Called the “clinical response model,” the changes were made in May 2018 to respond to a rise in non-emergency calls to 9-1-1, such as vehicle accidents with no injuries.

“Under the new system, highly trained rural first responders attached to fire departments and rescue societies are being called less frequently to medical incidents in their areas, resulting in pain and suffering and risking patient lives in rural and remote areas where ambulance dispatch may be an hour or more away, the Central Kootenay Regional District says in a resolution to be discussed at the UBCM convention.


@tomfletcherbc
tfletcher@blackpress.ca

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