Council raises fear of ambulance privatization, downloading

Burnaby Coun. Paul McDonell -
Burnaby Coun. Paul McDonell
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Burnaby council is raising concerns that recent changes to how ambulances respond to calls could be a step towards privatization for the government-run service.

As reported in the NewsLeader, B.C. Ambulance Service (BCAS) downgraded its response to 74 medical situations late last October. In addition making better use of limited resources, BCAS says the move is aimed at increasing safety by cutting down on ambulances speeding to calls.

Since the change, said Burnaby Fire Chief Doug McDonald in a report to council, Burnaby firefighters have had to wait longer for ambulances to arrive and take over care of patients. The delay is tying up firefighters from responding to other calls.

But BCAS says the change is already seeing benefits.

BCAS spokesperson Kelsie Carwithen said recently that ambulances are getting to urgent calls faster and are responding about six minutes longer to routine calls.

"We found that the six additional minutes for routine calls did not have a negative impact on the patient’s condition."

Meanwhile, Burnaby council members believe this is just a step towards the province ultimately privatizing the service.

Burnaby Fire Department is not changing its response protocol, but with more than 75 per cent of its calls medical related, it could hurt their response to other emergencies, said Coun. Paul McDonell, a retired Vancouver firefighter.

He noted that BCAS was created in the 1970s to provide adequate coverage across the province without being a financial burden on patients.

"You download service, eliminate service, you save costs and then our citizens suffer," McDonell said.

"This is a downloading any way you want to look at it," said Coun. Nick Volkow. "I also think it's a slow road to privatizing."

Coun. Colleen Jordan said she's "disgusted" at what's being done to save money. She noted that motor vehicle accidents are no longer on the highest priority list for ambulances. She recently learned of a man rescued by Burnaby firefighters after his car burst into flames a few years ago.

"Ask him what three more minutes would've meant, he would have been dead," she said.

"What about comfort, care and compassion for people who are hurt, injured and sick?"

Jordan said she hopes council can meet with Wynne Powell, the board chair of B.C. Emergency Health Services, to discuss the change.

Mayor Derek Corrigan noted that Powell is the former CEO of London Drugs. Unlike a retail business, reducing ambulance service a little to balance a budget is a "decision that can have serious ramifications," Corrigan said.

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