An executive with British Columbia’s ambulance service joked on the eve of B.C.’s deadly heat wave that people complaining of sunburn could overwhelm the non-emergency 8-1-1 health advice hotline.
At the June 24 B.C. Emergency Health Services board meeting, Neil Lilley, the senior provincial director of patient care, communications and planning, gave a presentation about the 2017-introduced clinical response model that assigns colour codes to different categories of injury or illness.
“Whereby a purple is an immediately life-threatening, for a cardiac arrest, for example, right the way down through a blue call, which is not urgent, we downstream those calls to 8-1-1. They could be somebody who stubbed their toe or has some severe sunburn, which probably is going to happen quite a bit this weekend,” Lilley laughed. “8-1-1 might be busy, but hopefully not.”
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Environment Canada warned early June 24 of dangerous, record-breaking heat that “will increase the potential for heat-related illnesses” with daytime highs of 38 Celsius in Metro Vancouver between June 25 and 29.
Later in the June 24 meeting, chair Tim Manning asked about call volume trends. Lilley said the reopening from the spring’s pandemic circuit breaker and heat were driving more 9-1-1 calls to ambulance dispatchers.
“It’s the downstream of people finally getting out and letting their hair down,” Lilley said.
“This extreme weather that you’re going to see this weekend is going to have a further boom, so it’s very challenging at the moment. Our staff are doing remarkable considering the excessive work they’ve had for such a long period of time as well, it’s quite worrisome for the summer.”
Manning did not acknowledge the imminent heat wave.
It turned into a record weekend for 9-1-1 call volumes, with hours-long backlogs and ambulance wait times.
BCEHS did not activate its dedicated emergency operations centre until June 29. As many as 719 people could have died from the heat. The B.C. Coroners Service is investigating each sudden and unexpected death, three times the average for the period.
On July 14, Health Minister Adrian Dix said chief operating officer Darlene MacKinnon would keep her job, despite the paramedics’ union campaigning for her firing. Instead, Providence Health COO Leanne Heppell has become the chief ambulance officer on an interim basis.
Former Vancouver Police Chief Jim Chu, now an executive with Aquilini Investment Group, is the new BCEHS chair, with Telus CEO Darren Entwistle acting as an advisor.
Another 85 full-time paramedics and 30 full-time dispatchers will be hired and 22 new ambulances bought.
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