The provincial ambulance service is sending crews from Terrace and Hazelton to staff its station at Kitwanga because it has no one on the job in the tiny community located one hour east of Terrace by road.
The service won’t go into details of why there is no one from Kitwanga on duty or if the situation is related to people choosing not to be vaccinated.
“We’re not able to go into specifics about the reasons any given position is vacant ….. as that is a private personnel manner,” said the service’s Jane Campbell.
But she pointed to previous ambulance service statements of early November emphasizing the “vital importance that front-line health care workers, including paramedics, are vaccinated.”
And that follows a provincial government edict that all of its employees be vaccinated or be placed on unpaid leave.
“Our leadership team has been regularly hosting emergency operations centre meetings to ensure all operational impacts have been considered,” the ambulance service information from Nov. 3 stated.
“We have been closely tracking areas where there are pockets of unvaccinated staff to ensure there are mitigation strategies in place if these staff choose to remain unvaccinated.”
While there may be no Kitwanga paramedics on duty at the moment, the ambulance service has increased the number of positions and boosted pay and benefits in hopes of returning to normal service.
From an on-call unit chief and part time community paramedic plus a small group on on-call paramedics, the staffing complement now calls for four positions, all at a .75 full time equivalent for pay and benefits.
One of those positions is that of a unit chief who would also act as a community paramedic while there would be two paramedics and one other community paramedic.
“These new positions will provide more consistent emergency coverage as well as enhanced community services to improve service delivery and patient care,” said Campbell.
“Introducing permanent, salaried positions with employer-provided health and wellness benefits is also expected to improve recruitment and retention.”
The Kitwanga positions follow what the service calls scheduled-on-call in which a paramedic is at a station for eight hours a day and on-call, with regular pay, for the remaining 16 hours of the day over a three-day shift rotation.
The Kitwanga additions follow a general lift in ambulance services in the north and other rural and remote areas with communities such as Burns Lake and Houston shifting to 24/7 coverage while even smaller communities being raised to scheduled-on-call.
Ambulance service statistics indicate there were 27 medical emergency responses in Kitwanga last year and 22 as of mid-November.
Visiting crews to Kitwanga do have an apartment available away from the ambulance station.
The station, which was once a provincial forest service structure, is considered old and inadequate and a community drive is underway to raise enough money for a replacement.
In the meantime, the current building has had its interior painted recently, washrooms renovated and a septic system maintained.