by John Boivin Local Journalism Initiative on Tuesday May 23 2023
British Columbia’s emergency health workers are finding themselves in a pretty good place as they mark Paramedic Services Week in the province in 2023.
“It’s an exciting time to join BCEHS,” says Sara Thomas, the manager of clinical operations for Kootenay West.
“With changes to the collective agreement, it’s creating quite a bit of excitement on the recruitment front – being able to offer living wages, more full-time and part-time jobs – is going to go a long way to recruiting and retaining paramedics on a local level.”
A 15-year veteran of BC Emergency Health Services in New Denver, Thomas oversees 80 staff at six local stations, from Riondel and Nelson to her home community. And she says she’s already seeing the new collective agreement generate more interest in the career.
“The number of on-call or casual positions is drying up with this implementation of regular part-time and full-time positions in rural and remote areas,” she told the Valley Voice. “I think we’re finally shedding the $2/hour shroud that we’ve been wearing for years.”
In February, the province’s paramedics voted overwhelmingly (96%) in favour of the new contact, which will see wages increase up to 13% over the next three years.
The contract also provides for a six-fold increase for those on-call wages (from $2/hour to $12/hour). The contract also offers a $1,000 mental health benefit for the 4,600 paramedics and dispatchers, as well as better provisions for leave of absences, paid education programs, and stronger language to protect seniority rights for part-time workers.
The contract will remain in effect until March 2025.
The government said it hopes the contract will support better recruitment and retention of staff across the province – and Thomas says they’ve already seen an uptick in interest in the profession.
“It’s been great. I did a ‘Coffee with a Medic’ in Nakusp about a month and a half ago, and it was really exciting to walk into the bay and see this hub of activity,” she recalls.
“I did a couple of interviews on the spot, and my colleagues did a few more. We interviewed six people on the spot that day. In years past, that would have been unheard of.”
Thomas says another enticing aspect of the contract is how it makes it a lot easier to receive training you need locally. More full-time and part-time local jobs also makes recruiting local workers simpler.
“Years ago, the model was, if you wanted to go full-time after seven or eight years, you’d go down to Vancouver, secure a full-time spot, then work your way back like a salmon, closer to the few-and-far-between local full-time positions,” she chuckles.
“Now there may not be a full-time position in your station, but you can look next door and neighbouring stations there’s a good chance there’s something a lot closer to home than there was in years past.”
You can get started a lot faster than you’d think, Thomas says. There’s not a high barrier to an entry-level job.
“We’re not only offering paid courses, but paid-to-take-them courses, and that’s brand new. We are offering those courses in the community. We just ran one for New Denver and Salmo, and they did their EMR course in two weeks.
And that course – along with two weeks of in-house training – is enough to get you started in your career as a paramedic.
“And I don’t think a lot of people appreciate that, they might think you need a degree or a diploma course – but to start things rolling, you just need the EMR course.”
While things have improved greatly for local recruitment, there are still a few under-staffed stations in the region, so efforts to hire more people continue. You can find out more about local opportunities during Paramedics Week, May 21-27.
For residents of Kaslo, the BCEHS is holding a recruitment session on Friday, May 26.
Thomas says it’s a rewarding career.
“It is an opportunity to support and help your community and neighbours,” she says. “And it’s an incredible profession. It’s not your 9 to 5 position, you have an opportunity to travel all over the province.
Start in New Denver, move to Vancouver Island, up north… it’s a career that can take you wherever you want to go. It’s pretty unlimited right now.”
John Boivin, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter for the Valley Voice serving the Slocan, Arrow Lakes and North Kootenay Lake Valleys