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Long ambulance wait for junior hockey player’s injury in Burnaby

A North Vancouver-based junior hockey league player had a scary experience on the ice at Burnaby Winter Club late last month, after he was injured during a game—and had to wait more than an hour for paramedics to arrive.

It’s another in a long string of incidents where British Columbians have had long waits for ambulances this year.

As first reported by North Shore News, North Vancouver Wolf Pack player Kaj Burgess was injured after a blow to his head in a Sept 26 Pacific Junior Hockey League game against the Grandview Steelers.

North Shore News reported that game officials decided to immobilize Burgess and call emergency services after he said he felt a tingling in his neck.

“I heard from a couple of spectators that it was a cross check to the neck,” Wolf Pack coach Matt Samson told the Beacon.

“When he did not get up right away we knew it was potentially serious, as he is not the type of player to stay down.”

A long wait

The team decided to keep Burgess on the ice to be safe while they waited for paramedics to arrive and assess him. But it took much longer than they were expecting—firefighters were actually the first responders on the scene, arriving 35 minutes after the original call.

They agreed that the best course of action was to keep Burgess where he was.

“He was talking and smiling a little bit,” Samson told North Shore News. 

“His dad was there and he talked to his mom on speakerphone. He was in really good spirits, considering, but just frustrated. And he was definitely getting cold.”

The game, which was postponed, was “the last thing on [the team’s] minds,” because everyone just wanted to make sure Burgess was okay.

When an ambulance finally arrived, Samson told the Beacon, it had to leave soon after for a more urgent call—leaving Burgess to wait for another one that could take him to hospital. All in all, he said it took an hour and 45 minutes for Burgess to receive care.

Emergency Health Services (EHS) told the Beacon in a statement that they received the call for a medical emergency at Burnaby Winter Club at 8:31pm.

Because the call was categorized as “yellow” for non-life-threatening, 3 ambulances that were on their way to the winter club had to be redeployed elsewhere to more urgent calls. 

“The medical emergency call had a nine-and-a-half minute delay from first being received from E-Comm (911), at 8:22 pm,” EHS said in an emailed statement.

“A paramedic unit was dispatched and arrived at the scene at 9:36 pm. One patient was transported routine [sic] to hospital in stable condition.”

That would put the time that Burgess waited for paramedics to arrive to an hour and 15 minutes.

Ambulance wait times in Burnaby

Long waits for ambulances have come to the forefront in BC this year, especially after the deadly heat dome event at the beginning of July where hundreds of people died, many of them after hours-long waits for ambulances.

EHS was roundly criticized for its lack of preparedness, for failing to activate its emergency operations centre until the last day of the heat dome, and for defending its response in the days that followed.

“That definitely undermined the public confidence in the ambulance service. … I don’t know how they can overcome that without significant restructuring and review of what got us into this situation,” Ambulance Paramedics of BC president Troy Clifford told the Beacon.

“I think that needs to be followed through with—that we need to look hard and significantly at how we got to the situation we did, and who’s accountable and how we’re going to get out of it.”

Burnaby Mayor Mike Hurley told a city council meeting late on Sept 28—just two days after the incident at the Burnaby Winter Club—that the 911 system “completely failed” Burnaby during the heat dome.

Burnaby Fire Department emails obtained by the Beacon refer to “excessive delays in the arrival of BCAS [BC Ambulance Services] crews to many incidents,” with paramedics unable to respond to anything but the highest acuity calls “for a period of some 5-8 hours.”

Meanwhile, a report released by Human Rights Watch yesterday said the BC government had failed to protect older people and people with disabilities, with “disastrous impact.” 

Changes in EHS

Shortly after the heat dome, the province made changes to BC EHS leadership amid growing concerns over a “systemic crisis in the emergency service.” Health Minister Adrian Dix also pledged to hire 85 new full-time paramedics to meet demand.

“I’ll say two things that I expect from BCEHS: one, when people need an ambulance and call 911 an ambulance should get there; and two, that we should be an outstanding employer,” Dix said in July.

“Those are our priorities, and that’s what I am continuing to pursue.”

Clifford said Tuesday that those announcements and commitments are encouraging signs—but that there had been a recent “lull” in putting the changes into action.

“When we’re still seeing delays, nothing is quick enough. If you’re laying on the ice waiting for an ambulance, it doesn’t matter how hard we’re trying, when we’re still seeing those delays. That’s not acceptable,” he said.

“We’re now in October, and we haven’t seen the next levels of analysis and how many ambulances we need to make to get to 8.59 minutes and meet those benchmark national standards, to make sure we get a timely ambulance to them. So yes, I think there’s a lot of work still to be done.”

Clifford said service in the Lower Mainland, in particular, has not kept up with the demands of a growing population, and in Burnaby’s case has actually seen cuts. He said three paramedic stations in the city were shut down in recent years and amalgamated into one central station, which impacted how quickly responders can arrive to outlying areas.