Meet Gabriola Island’s community paramedics

Rachelle Stein-Wotten

Sounder News

Wednesday, March 4 2020

Vanessa Vee and Andrea Keenan, community paramedics with BC Emergency Health Services, stationed on Gabriola Island. Sarah Holmes photo


It’s been less than a year since Vanessa Vee and Andrea Keenan have been on island as community paramedics (CPs) as part of Gabriola’s health care services.

Vee started her CP position on Gabriola in September, while Keenan, who lives in the Comox Valley, started on Gabriola in October. The duo has been active in building a presence on the island, carrying a load of between five and eight clients each and working in the community on prevention and education.

Working out of the Gabriola Ambulance Station and travelling to different locations in their SUV equipped with medications, bandages, and oxygen, Vee and Keenan work as CPs two days a week. 

They do weekly home visits to clients, mainly seniors and those dealing with chronic conditions, to support their individual health plans, review medications, and “build their confidence in the services that we give,” said Vee. Some conditions they help manage are heart failure, COPD, diabetes, and fall prevention.

Vee said, “Often when clients can been seen in their homes and don’t have to call 9-1-1, there’s more stability in the community – especially in our seniors – when they know someone is going to check up on them.”

The CPs work closely with doctors and nurses, respiratory technicians, occupational therapists, home care teams, and social workers, and have community partners for their job duties related to education and prevention initiatives.

At the elementary school, they have given presentations on hand washing, first aid, and body awareness and hygiene. At the Seniors’ Centre, they have offered a blood pressure clinic and fall prevention and fall recovery workshops.  Keenan coordinated a blood drive recently, arranging transportation to Nanaimo. They have gone to the HOPE Centre preschool program and are forging ties with People for a Healthy Community.

Both CPs will attend community events to do wellness clinics and presentations.

While responding to emergency calls is not their primary focus, CPs are also available as an “extra resource” in emergency situations. In the year-and-a-half that Keenan has worked as a CP, she has responded to three emergency calls. Outside of their CP days, Vee works ambulance shifts on Gabriola and Keenan does the same in the Comox Valley. 

They’ve served as paramedics for a combined total of 30 years.

Shannon Miller, communications officer for BC Emergency Health Services, said the province-wide community paramedicine program was launched in B.C. in 2016 for rural and remote communities with the intention of decreasing the load on paramedic staff and closing gaps in local health services. As of 2019, 99 communities had CPs. She said the program has had a slow roll-out and as such no province-wide data is available yet on the success of its objectives. Internal reviews indicate a reduction in 9-1-1 emergency calls in communities with CPs.

In an email, Miller stated, “A recent review indicated more than 50 per cent of patients cared for by community paramedics either improved or maintained their health.”

Vee and Keenan want the community to know they are around and are here to serve.

Keenan said, ““It’s been really fun” getting to know everyone.

“We can go into anywhere and say, hey, we’re Vanessa and Andrea. We’d like to help you do whatever needs to be done.”

Anyone interested in having Vee and Keenan attend an event or provide training, or wanting to know more about CP services can contact them at or inquire thru the Gabriola Medical Centre on Church Street.