Nakusp B.C. senior dies while waiting for ambulance

The West Kootenay village of Nakusp has had full-time 24/7 paramedic service since last November to serve its 1,600 residents, but when a man in his late 60s had a medical emergency at home last month, no ambulance was available.

The community’s mayor, Tom Zeleznik, is a close friend of the patient and said after the man’s wife and a friend called for an ambulance, they eventually decided to transport him themselves. He did not survive.

“They waited for about 45 minutes to an hour and realized that he was starting to go downhill fast and had to get him to the hospital,” Zeleznik told Global News in an interview Saturday.

“And as they were going down the road, he had a massive heart attack.”

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Troy Clifford, provincial president of the Ambulance Paramedics of BC, said what transpired is a failure to manage resources and have a balanced emergency coverage plan in place for Nakusp – when round-the-clock ambulance service is not in effect.

“It’s unacceptable,” Clifford said. “I think the ambulance service and government fell short on this one.”

BC Emergency Health Services (BCEHS) said it received a call at 11:59 a.m. on Jan. 29 to respond to a patient at a residence in Nakusp.

The Nakusp ambulance was not staffed at the time because of “staffing shortages due to illness.”

“It’s bigger than that, there [are] two ambulances that should be staffed 24 hours a day in Nakusp and clearly they were not that day,” noted Clifford.

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BCEHS said the closest available ambulance in Castlegar was immediately dispatched to what was initially described as a low-acuity or non-lights and sirens call.

Paramedics were enroute to the patient when 45 minutes later, “the call was cancelled by the caller indicating they were self-transporting to the hospital,” read a statement from BCEHS.

“After the initial call was cancelled, a second call – initially unknown to be related – came in from the hospital notifying BCEHS of an incident at the hospital.”

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BCEHS said the patient had already been brought into the hospital when the second call was made.

“When they finally got him in there, they had to pronounce him dead,” said Zeleznik.

“There’s no one to blame – it’s just the resources and we are working together with BCEHS.”

Nakusp currently has eight regular full-time and two irregular full-time paramedics, which the mayor said is between 50 to 60 per cent of the staff needed to adequately operate the 24/7 ambulance model.

“I think we’ve seen a lot of examples of that system failing people who live here, pay their taxes, grow up here, work – we see it failing consistently,” said Nakusp resident Byron Allen.

“They expect these services to be there when they need them,” added Nakusp resident Dennis Kelly.

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“This isn’t just Nakusp and rural areas, this is across Canada,” said Zeleznik.

BCEHS said it has been working on recruiting and hiring more paramedics for Nakusp, while chief ambulance officer Leanne Heppell and chief operating officer Neil Lilley are in an “ongoing dialogue” with the mayor.

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Lilley met with Zeleznik and New Denver mayor Leonard Casley on Feb. 9, and together they committed to short-term solutions, according to BCEHS.

A follow-up meeting is scheduled for early March.

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Cranbrook woman left in pain while waiting for ambulance

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