Ambulance didn't come for northern Alberta heart attack call

A couple from Fox Creek, Alta. says the province's health care system is neglecting to serve residents of rural communities in emergency situations.

Firefighters drove woman to hospital in private vehicle instead

No ambulance came after a Fox Creek woman's co-workers called 911, thinking she was having a heart attack. ((Michael Dick/CBC News))

A couple from Fox Creek, Alta. says the province's health care system is neglecting to serve residents of rural communities in emergency situations.

Dorothy Church was at work a few weeks ago when she started to have chest pain and shortness of breath. Her co-workers called 911 and then called her husband.

John Church said he got to her workplace about half an hour later, but the ambulance wasn't there yet.  He said her co-workers called 911 back, and were told there was no ambulance available.

"Twenty-five minutes had past and we had to re-phone. At that point they told us there was no ambulance. The closest one was Valleyview and that's an hour away on a good day. And they don't have a paramedic either," he said.

"And in an hour, I mean, how long does it take somebody to die of a heart attack? It's a lot shorter than an hour."

Thankfully, Dorothy wasn't having a heart attack, but her husband says it would have been bad if she had been.

"She could have died, she probably would have died," he said.

Looking for answers

The Churches are outraged they weren't able to get an ambulance when they needed one. Now they want answers from Alberta Health Services.

"If we can't count on emergency services when we need them what's going to happen?" Dorothy asked.

John says a letter from the government apologizes and explains the number of calls in Fox Creek doesn't warrant more than one ambulance.

"It looks like it's a manufactured letter from a person who sits behind a desk and has other people doing his bidding."

AHS said there is plan in place to send another ambulance if the one in Fox Creek is busy, but Dorothy says that didn't help her in a moment of need. She wonders if tight budgets are the reason why.

"It's a question of a human life, are they going to put the dollar sign before they're going to put the human life?" she asked.

Church was eventually brought to the hospital by firefighters who were nearby taking a training course.

They drove her in a private vehicle.

AHS says it is reviewing what happened and looking at ways to ensure better service in the future.

Fox Creek is approximately 200 kilometres to the east and south of Grande Prairie, and about 260 km northwest of Edmonton along Highway 43.

With files from the CBC's Travis Dhanraj