Ambulances in Manitoba's rural communities failed to meet response time guidelines nearly half the time from April 2012 to March 2013, a CBC News I-Team investigation has found.

Provincial guidelines mandate ambulance response times are not to exceed 30 minutes 90 per cent of the time. In fact, during that time period ambulances failed to meet those guidelines 46 per cent of the time.   

“It is a benchmark to measure practice against,” said Gerry Delorme, executive director of health emergency management with Manitoba Health. “It’s a good cut off to tell us if we are doing well or not doing well according to our consultants.”

Contact the I-Team

If you have a tip for the CBC News I-Team, please call our confidential tip line at (204) 788-3744 or email iteam@cbc.ca

Waiting for an ambulance is something Manitoban Tammy Gatchell knows well. She needed an ambulance one night when she woke to banging at her door and found a woman outside who was hysterical, saying her boyfriend had been stabbed.

The man was lying on her front deck bleeding, so Gatchell called 911 while the girlfriend tried to stop the bleeding.

"It was a horror show, honestly, it's something you don't want to open up your door to," Gatchell said.

Her home is on Highway 6 in Ashern, near a local landmark. Gatchell thought the ambulance would only take minutes.

“You know after the 20 minute mark, you're just -- how much longer?" she said. "Every vehicle you hear passing, is that them, is that them? “

She said it took an hour for the ambulance to arrive.

The data CBC received through an access to information request paints a picture of slow response times in Ashern.

The median response time in the town ranged from 16 minutes in September 2012 to a high of 42 minutes in December of that same year.

When it comes to making the guideline of being under 30 minutes 90 per cent of the time, it failed every month between April 2012 and March 2013.   

Delorme said Ashern does service a large area including the highway leading to Grand Rapids. He added weather, multiple ambulance calls and calling medics into the station from their homes can add to response times.

“To bring times down more, you need people who are at the station ready to go; that means hiring more people getting more full and part time employees working in rural EMS,”  said Wayne Chacun, Emergency Medical Services director for the Manitoba Government and General Employees' Union. 

He said many stations are covered by medics on standby during the evening and overnight. That means the medic gets a call, has to get dressed and travel to the station before the ambulance gets rolling.

“Our paramedics respond as quickly and safely as possible,” Chacun said.

Delorme admitted progress is needed to improve performance against that benchmark.

“We still need most of those stations, if not all of those stations, as soon as possible to move to the 30-minute guideline,” Delorme said.

He added the median response time in the whole province has gone from 16 minutes in 2011 to around 12 for 2012/2013. “We are trending in right direction.”

Gatchell still wonders what happened to the stranger who came to her for help.  

She also wonders how long it will take next time she needs an ambulance.