Paramedics joining the shift at BV Hospital ER

In a B.C. first, paramedics are joining emergency room staff for regular shifts at the Bulkley Valley District Hospital (BVDH).

In a B.C. first, paramedics are joining emergency room staff for regular shifts at the Bulkley Valley District Hospital (BVDH).

The pilot project started Aug. 2 and will run six months to a year.

Before the pilot, the emergency room was staffed by one nurse working with one ER doctor.

Now, two paramedics come in regularly to help the nurse however they can.

“We hope that it will actually speed things up for the patients,” said Jody Holmes, local superintendent of the BC Ambulance Service.

The paramedics are joining the ER staff for two, three-hour shifts a day—one in the morning and one at night.

When they arrive for those shifts, the paramedics park their ambulance just outside the ER. They  are still on standby and can be called away at any time.

On-duty paramedics have just 90 seconds to respond to a call out, said Cormac Hikisch, health services administrator for the BVDH. That means there is some limit to the kind of work they can take on.

The twenty paramedics in the pilot did not need any extra medical training to take part, though they did get extensive lessons in just how the emergency room runs at BDVH.

But once on shift, the paramedics work within the range of medical services they usually do on the road—things like taking vital signs, starting IVs and treating soft tissue injuries.

The difference is that now they do those things every day.

“They are in the ER and they are doing patient assessments on a regular basis—they’re going to get better at it,” said Holmes.

Aside from boosting paramedics’ skills and speeding up service for patients, organizers hope the pilot can make it easier to recruit new paramedics and keep them working in rural areas like the Bulkley Valley.

“We have paramedics in many communities sitting idle, wanting to work more, able to work more, and on call,” said Hikisch. “You would think there are opportunities in health services.”

Apart from less down-time, the paramedics are also enjoying a bump in pay. The stand-by rate for Smithers paramedics is $10.77 an hour. On the ER shifts, most paramedics will be paid $22 to $24 an hour.

The pilot project was at least two years in the making and is the first time anything like it has been tried in B.C.

A working group of nurses, doctors, paramedics and hospital administrators meets every two weeks at the hospital to share feedback on how the project is going. They will watch closely to see what impact it has the patient experience in the ER, including wait times.