The Sparwood Health Centre. (Scott Tibballs / The Free Press)

The Sparwood Health Centre. (Scott Tibballs / The Free Press)

Sparwood to get greater ambulance coverage

The district has received verbal assurances Sparwood will get the same coverage as Fernie

Sparwood will be getting greater ambulance service coverage thanks to lobbying from the community.

Mayor David Wilks – who also the chair of the Kootenay East Regional Hospital District board – told The Free Press that the district had had fruitful conversations with the BC Emergency Health Service (BCEHS) at the recent Union of British Columbia Municipalities (UBCM) conference in Whistler, where he had been given verbal assurance that Sparwood would be getting eight full-time ambulance paramedic positions going forward.

“From the conversation and other letters we’ve been sending to BC Ambulance over the last year or two, they informed us that we were getting eight full-time positions,” said Wilks of the meeting, which included himself, Sparwood councillor Jason Christensen and several high-ranking BCEHS representatives.

“What I am led to believe … is that we are getting the same that Fernie has.”

The BCEHS confirmed the news.

A BCEHS spokesperson told The Free Press that Sparwood would be one of three rural communities (together with Valemount and Nakusp) to transition from a scheduled on-call model to an “alpha rotation” which refers to a unit with eight full-time positions. Sparwood will have a full-time car, as well as an on-call car in the community.

The arrangement would mean there would be two ambulance paramedics working in Sparwood at all times, with two on day shift and two on nights, on a four-on, four-off schedule.

“We only have on-call right now,” said Wilks. “This will give us eight full-time positions, and from there I’m led to believe that the on-call personnel will be paid a lot differently than how they are paid now.”

Currently, on-call personnel are paid $2 an hour, unless they are called to jobs at which their regular pay kicks in – something which Wilks said no doubt disincentivized people from going into the sector due to low wages.

According to Sparwood unit chief, Kristie Williams, the news was a welcome change.

“This will likely draw staff in from outside the Kootenays and will definitely be an improvement to inter facility transfers,” she said. “We know it’s a step in the right direction.”

The shift to a full-time rotation for Sparwood is expected to be concluded by late fall according to the BCEHS. Currently, the agency is actively recruiting across the province.

For their part, Wilks and the district have been lobbying the BCEHS for years to improve ambulance coverage in Sparwood, with letters back and forth between the district and the Ministry of Health.

According to letters sent to the ministry, the district had been concerned about long wait-times for ambulances in the community, transfers leading to no ambulances being based in Sparwood at all for significant periods of time (requiring BCEHS crews from neighbouring communities to cover Sparwood), and fatigue management for crews that do work in Sparwood on a scheduled-on call model.

“I think it’s just awesome,” said Wilks. “We’ve been trying to get something more concrete for Sparwood for quite a while.”

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