Worries that ambulance service along Hwy16 is being affected by Coastal GasLink’s pipeline project are being answered by ambulance service officials and the pipeline builder.
On two occasions last year elected officials raised the matter at Regional District of Bulkley Nechako meetings.
At an October 22, 2020 session of the regional district, Vanderhoof mayor and regional district chair Gerry Thiessen spoke of a meeting with a senior provincial official prior to work camps opening along the pipeline route.
He said he was given assurances there would be no impact on community healthcare resources and would pursue the matter.
Houston mayor Shane Brienen, who is also the District of Houston’s representative on the regional district board, followed by speaking of BC Ambulance employees being drawn to work on the pipeline, noting it is having an impact on the availability of ambulance service within communities.
Historically, in smaller communities, the ambulance service relies on part time/on call employees, positions which have a pay level making it difficult to recruit people.
He also expressed concern at the prospect of more motor vehicle accidents because of the increase of pipeline-related traffic in the region.
The regional district next had a chance to address the health services issue directly on Nov. 19, 2020 when officials of TC Energy, the parent company to Coastal GasLink, appeared before the board.
Among a number of discussion points was the prospect of provincial ambulance employees leaving to work on the pipeline project instead.
But TC Energy official Kiel Giddens told board members work camps do have their own medical personnel, including occupational health care nurses and on-call physicians.
He said TC Energy would be investigating further to determine any impacts on medical services in the surrounding communities and that it is in regular contact with Northern Health.
Speaking two weeks ago, Houston mayor Shane Brienen said the matter of provincial ambulance employees being drawn to work on the pipeline was not unique to his community.
“It’s an issue that’s being looked at,” he said of reports of personnel shortages.
“You can’t really fault people for finding a better job,” Brienen added.
Coastal GasLink says it meets regularly with Northern Health to discuss health care issues arising from its work camps along the pipeline route.
The company “regularly collaborates with the Northern Health Authority to minimize local service gaps and ensure the workforce understands the availability of healthcare services on-site,” it said in a statement.
Coastal GasLink did meet with BC Emergency Health Services (BCEHS), which is responsible for the ambulance service, last summer and that sessions include a company called International SOS (ISOS) which Coastal GasLink has hired to provide medical services at its camps.
“BCEHS is in direct contact with ISOS to discuss staffing and sharing of resources,” the company said adding no provincial ambulance employees have left that employment to work for ISOS on the pipeline project.
It said its meetings with the regional district concerned potential impacts on hospital usage.
“At this time, we haven’t received any additional information or data, and are not aware of any potential adverse effects,” Coastal GasLink stated.
For its part, BCEHS said recruiting and staffing in smaller and more remote communities has always been a challenge, something it has hopes of addressing this year through a collective agreement with its unionized paramedics.
“A key element of the agreement is a new service model providing new, permanent paramedic jobs in rural and smaller communities where BCEHS has historically relied on part time on-call and standby positions,” it indicated in a statement.
With specific reference to Coastal GasLink, BCEHS said the company has agreed not to hire local paramedic staff away fom the ambulance service.
“Losing BCEHS staff to pipeline construction medical staffing, therefore, has not been a direct issue for our staffing,” it added.
But BCEHS is aware one of its paramedics did take a leave of absence about a year ago to work for Coastal GasLink’s medical service provider.