It’s time for the province to shoulder the cost of first response emergency medical care provided by B.C. communities.
That’s the gist of a resolution that the City of Langley will bring to the Union of B.C. Municipalities’ annual meeting this September.
The City is leading the charge to have the province take on the expense of having firefighters respond to medical calls in support of the B.C. Ambulance Service, said Mayor Peter Fassbender, as he presented the resolution for council’s support on Monday night.
Currently, the entire cost is covered by the municipality.
Although the first response program is voluntary, “the fact is that this intermediate patient care can greatly enhance patient outcomes and significantly reduce . . . costs to the overall health care system,” reads the resolution, which urges the province to work with UBCM to develop a fair cost recovery model.
Ideally, Fassbender would like to see the province compensate municipalities for 100 per cent of the medical calls that firefighters attend.
“And the reason is, we’re providing a medical service to the community.
“It’s a necessary service,” he added. “People in distress don’t care who comes, as long as somebody is there to help.”
At the same time, said Fassbender, “Medical calls shouldn’t be our responsibility.”
Cities took on the role because there was such huge pressure with a lack of ambulance service, he said.
Last year, of the 2,332 calls the City of Langley fire department answered, 1,768 — 76 percent — were Medical Emergency Service Alarm (MESA) calls.
Since 2002, the number of MESA calls to the City’s fire department have increased tenfold, while calls for all other situations combined have remained steady at about 560 per year.
The reasons for the marked increase are likely a combination of a population that is both growing and aging, as well as “challenges” with the B.C. Ambulance Service, Fassbender said.
Limiting the types of calls that crews attend is an option the municipality has in order to save money, said City CAO Francis Cheung.
That would mean having crews attend only Delta/Echo classified calls. The designation indicates immediate life-threatening illness or injury.
Currently, City firefighters respond to Alpha/Omega (neither serious nor life-threatening) and Bravo/Charlie (serious, but not life-threatening) calls as well as Delta/Echo calls. Currently, nearly half of the calls the City responds to are categorized as non-life-threatening.
But not attending those calls won’t sit well with residents, said the mayor.
“If people are in distress and they want help, and (they hear) ‘Sorry, no one’s coming,’ and an ambulance doesn’t arrive.
“Our basic philosophy is we want to protect the life and safety of our citizens and do that in the most cost-effective way.”
But it’s difficult to break down exactly how much of a cost saving could be achieved through this measure, because crews are on shift and being paid whether or not they are attending calls, noted Cheung. However, each time a crew goes out, there are added costs for fuel, wear and tear on vehicles and the possibility that paid on-call workers will have to be brought in if a second call comes in.
Now that the resolution has passed, City council members will lobby other communities leading up to UBCM, which will be held in Victoria from Sept. 24 to 28.
Several municipalities have already voiced concerns about the cost-sharing formula, said Fassbender.
“This is good leadership,” said Councillor Dave Hall, before voting in favour of the resolution.