Ambulance 'red alert' target is zero, health minister says

Newfoundland and Labrador Health Minister Susan Sullivan says "zero" is the acceptable number of red alerts at Eastern Health.

Susan Sullivan calls it 'premature' to talk about adding paramedics or vehicles in metro area

Newfoundland and Labrador Health Minister Susan Sullivan responds to questions from reporters on Oct. 7. (CBC)

Newfoundland and Labrador Health Minister Susan Sullivan says “zero” is the acceptable number of red alerts at Eastern Health.

“That would certainly be the target,” Sullivan told reporters Monday.

Red alerts happen when there is no ambulance available on standby, ready to answer emergency calls in the metro St. John's area.

Last month, a CBC News investigation revealed that red alerts are back on the rise — and far from zero.

The number of red alert minutes is on track to reach 9,600 this year — an average of nearly a half hour a day.

Sullivan downplayed the significance of red alerts when answering questions during a Monday press conference to release a review of the province’s ambulance system.

“Sometimes that could be anywhere from 30 seconds to two minutes in the run of a day,” the minister said.

“Somebody may call for an ambulance and there may be a short window when all of the ambulances are out on dispatch, but another one is on the way back or is pulling into the driveway at that particular moment in time.”

According to records obtained by CBC News through access-to-information, many red alerts do have a duration of just a few minutes.

But others last much longer — on May 24, a red alert remained in effect for more than two hours. For that entire time period, there were calls waiting, and no ambulance on standby ready to answer them.

Sullivan says the government is still gathering data at this point, and it is too early to talk about adding more paramedics or ambulances in the region.

“At this point in time I think that’s premature,” Sullivan said. “I think there are all kinds of other options that we can take a look at first.”

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