Eastern Health to boost number of ambulances, paramedics

Eastern Health is getting new ambulances and hiring more paramedics after an independent report revealed there are not enough of either in the current system.

Government plans to address all issues flagged by consultants within five years

Eastern Health will get new ambulances and hire more paramedics in the wake of an independent report by Pomax Consulting Inc. examining the current system. (CBC)

Eastern Health is getting new ambulances and hiring more paramedics after an independent report revealed there are not enough of either in the current system.

The external review by Pomax Consulting Inc., released Thursday, indicates that the full-time equivalent of 25 new paramedics are needed to meet the current demand. 

The 144-page report into paramedicine and medical transport was released by Health Minister Steve Kent and Eastern Health CEO David Diamond.

"My primary concern when I read the report was ensuring that we put more paramedics on the road, and we have the equipment and the tools necessary for those paramedics to be successful in their work, to ensure public safety," Kent told reporters on Thursday.

A report into paramedicine service within Eastern Health shows there are too few paramedics and ambulances in the system. (Peter Cowan/CBC)

Diamond said the Pomax report confirms many issues that health officials were already working to address.

"The report for us is very directional," Diamond said.

Based on the report, Eastern Health is adding two full-time ambulances as well as 8.2 paramedic positions by January. 

Immediate action will also be taken, the health authority said, to add one supervisor and one support technician as well as establishing a new medical communications centre.

It was also announced that the Burin Peninsula Health Centre will be getting a helipad. Construction is already underway.

A new dispatch centre will be opened in the Miller Centre.

The total cost of the changes will be $39.5 million over five years, according to the province.

The minister said the money needed will be taken from other areas of the healthcare budget, where they have under-spent.

He committed to implement all recommendations in the report ahead of the recommended five-year schedule.

Fewer red alerts expected

Kent said by making changes to the system, based on the recommendations, there will be fewer red alerts.

Red alerts occur when there is no Eastern Health ambulance available on standby to take emergency or non-emergency calls on the northeast Avalon.

"We're putting more ambulances on the roads," he noted. "We're putting more paramedics to work. That has to have a positive impact on service in the region."

Kent said that some red alerts are "inevitable," but expects that the added resources during the periods of greater demand for services will make them less frequent and shorter in duration.

New service model in Goose Bay

Five of the six positions for air ambulance services in Labrador are vacant. That means changes are coming there, to a fly-in, fly-out service.

Kent said the province has had trouble recruiting and retaining employees in Happy Valley-Goose Bay through incentives.

"None of that has worked, to be frank," the minister noted.

"We're down to a point now where the service is not sustainable."

The new model will still allow people to live and work in Goose Bay, if they choose that option.

With files from Peter Cowan

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