VICTORIA, B.C. – The province has made changes to B.C. Emergency Health Service as it looks to improve ambulance response times across the province.

Frustration towards slow wait times has been directed at BCEHS for some time. However, the issue has been brought to the forefront of the province’s agenda following the recent heat wave.

The province is bolstering ambulance operations by hiring 85 new full-time paramedics, 30 full-time dispatchers, and 22 new ambulances. The BCEHS is also converting 22 rural ambulance stations to 24/7 ALPHA stations to enhance ambulance coverage for these communities.

Minister of health Adrian Dix made the announcement Wednesday, assigning former Vancouver police chief Jim Chu as the new chair of the BCEHS board.

In addition, the current chief operating officer of Providence Health Care, Leanne Heppell, has been appointed as B.C.’s new chief ambulance officer on an interim basis.

Dix says the board of directors will now focus solely on ambulance services to ensure direct leadership of services, with the board reporting directly to the minister.

“When we call for help, we need to know help is on the way, and that it will arrive quickly,” said Adrian Dix, Minister of Health.

To get paramedics and ambulances back on the road to respond to patient calls more quickly, the province is directing health authorities to add additional staff to receive patients and care for them when they arrive at emergency departments.

“Immediate action on operations, as well as stronger leadership and increased investment at BC Emergency Health Services, will deliver a more effective ambulance service for patients and families who depend on it. Better support for paramedics and dispatchers will help them do the vital work we count on every day.”

Dix has also directed the BCEHS to develop a team of mental health and wellness professionals to work directly with dispatch staff and paramedics to address chronic stress, fatigue and support wellness among staff.

The province says between 2017 and 2019 in B.C., 115 paramedic positions were added to support direct patient care, improve service and response times, and modernize dispatch operations. Since January 2021, 271 paramedics have been hired by BC Emergency Health Services.