A North Vancouver man is calling for change after his mother was forced to lie injured on the street for more than five hours before paramedics arrived.
It’s the latest in a series of public cases that show BC Emergency Health Services falling behind amid a paramedic shortage and spike in demand.
Mathieu Leclerc said his mom fell from her bicycle while riding on Argyle Avenue in Ambleside around 7:30 p.m. Friday.
“She fell on her leg and from that point, she wasn’t able to move anymore,” he said.
His dad called 911 to request an ambulance. Leclerc arrived 40 minutes later, surprised to see his mother still on the ground with no first responders in sight.
It was another 45 minutes before members of West Vancouver Fire and Rescue, who had only just been tasked, arrived on the scene. They provided some measures to comfort Leclerc’s mom, including nitrous oxide, but fire crews in B.C. are not cleared to transport patients to hospital and so they too were forced to wait.
Leclerc said they tried to move his mom into his vehicle so he could do the job himself, but even the slightest movement was “excruciating” for his mom. Everyone at the scene felt helpless, Leclerc said, although there were some very compassionate bystanders who helped his mom so she would be comfortable.
“You wouldn’t expect random people to do this, but they were just so helpful,” he said
By the time an ambulance arrived, it was 12:45 a.m. – more than five hours since they called for help.
While his mom understood that calls for life-threatening illness and injury must take priority, Leclerc said the system is clearly broken.
“She obviously thinks that it took too long. She shouldn’t have been on the ground for five hours in a populated area, in such a developed nation,” he said. “I’d like to know that help is available when you call 911. If you are in a serious situation, and you can’t get that help, I think that’s the most devastating thing that could happen to a person.”
North Vancouver-Seymour MLA Susie Chant, a registered nurse outside of politics, was shocked to hear about Leclerc’s mother’s wait.
“That is terribly distressing,” she said. “I have waited with my mom for an ambulance and it’s the longest [wait] of your life.”
Chant said the province has been hiring more paramedics but it will still be some time before they are fully deployed, and demand for services remains extremely high.
“We have more people on the front line. We’ve hired more people in dispatch. We have done that; however, it is not sufficient to fill the gaps that are already in place, let alone to enhance the numbers as yet. It takes a while for people to train,” she said. “I do recognize that we really are in a perfect storm right now with the EHS system. We’re dealing with the aftermath of COVID. We have the opioid crisis. We’re dealing with the heat issues and we’re dealing with a whole bunch of front-line clinicians who are tired.”
Speaking on the condition anonymity because they could be fired for speaking publicly, a paramedic familiar with the situation said the delay was almost certainly due to all of the North Shore’s ambulances being redeployed to Burnaby and Vancouver, which they are increasingly tasked to do since BC EHS closed their North Burnaby station.
“The (North) Shore is literally left without ambulance coverage and then they scramble to rush cars from St. Paul’s, VGH and Burnaby, or down from the Sea to Sky corridor, to clear and respond to calls as we are now unavailable,” they said. “There are shifts when I don’t make a single trip to Lions Gate Hospital.”
The paramedic said the province’s promise of hiring more paramedics “somewhat of an illusion.” None of the new crews will be in Metro Vancouver, they said, and most of them will be absorbed into a new scheduling system rather than sent to where they are needed most
“We are being worked into the ground, as more and more people reach their limits and become burnt out. Both mental and physical injuries amongst staff are skyrocketing and those of us who show up day-in, day-out are being worked even harder,” they said.
Even if there is no simple way to quickly staff up on paramedics, Leclerc said fire departments should be trained and authorized to take patients like his mom to the hospital.
“This would have been solved within the first few minutes and it wouldn’t have taxed the system like this,” he said.
As of Monday, Leclerc said they still did not know the extent of his mom’s knee injury, but he said she is currently using a wheelchair and walker to get around.
Later that night, West Vancouver Mayor Mary-Ann Booth condemned the reports of increasing wait times. Booth said she had heard reports of people waiting up to 11 hours for an ambulance and, in her discussions with fellow mayors, every community is facing similar shortages.
“We’re in a crisis. The Mayor’s Council is on this. If we have to camp out on the legislature to speak to the province, we will. We have to get a response. Either pay us to deal with it at the local level, or fund the ambulance properly,” she said. “This is unacceptable. It’s on our radar, big time.”
BC Emergency Health Services did not respond to a request for comment.