ALS paramedic Jason Arnold

Jason Arnold is one of four advanced life support paramedics currently working in the South Okanagan under a pilot program launched by B.C. Emergency Health Services.

There’s never been a better time to be struck with a life-threatening condition in the South Okanagan.

B.C. Emergency Health Services has launched a pilot project in the region that makes advanced life support paramedics available to go out on calls with regular paramedics.

The specialists, who ride in their own SUV, can be dispatched to high-acuity calls, such as heart attacks, strokes, major trauma cases or other life-threatening ailments.

“The South Okanagan has highly experienced primary-care paramedics. The single response unit adds an extra layer of expertise to patient assessments and treatments,” said Michael Boyarski, BCHES district manager.

ALS paramedics receive additional training so they can “provide direct, advanced clinical care to patients facing particularly challenging medical and trauma situations,” explained Boyarski.

For example, “It may not be that your heart stopped. It may be that your heart is out of rhythm and they’re able to monitor that… and provide an electrical shock” to get the heart back into synch, he continued.

ALS paramedics can also recommend where patients should be sent for treatment – whether it’s a local hospital or somewhere outside the region.

Boyarski said the pilot project – which consists of four paramedics who rotate through daytime shifts – actually began in January and made previous stops in Vernon, Kelowna and West Kelowna.

While dedicated advanced life-support ambulances are stationed in larger centres, he added, the pilot program is assessing whether a more nimble model can be used in more rural areas like the South Okanagan.

“It’s trying to improve our service as we’re seeing the increases in call volumes in the areas,” said Boyarski.

The trial is slated to run through December, after which BCEHS will review the program and decide whether to keep it. Similar versions are in place in the Lower Mainland and Australia.