Manitoba

Frustrations mount in Cross Lake, Man., where ambulance service has been in limbo for 2 years

With a new health centre expected to open in the next few months, the Michelle Memorial Ambulance Service is continuing to try and regain its licence after an impaired driving incident in January 2021.

Private ambulance service is still seeking its licence after 2021 incident

The service has been suspended since January. (Submitted by Ron Hayes)

A private ambulance service in Cross Lake, Man., hasn't been operating for two years now, with frustrations mounting from operators and community members who want to see things back up and running.

"You know, it's a matter of life and death for some of our citizens," said Chief David Monias of Pimicikamâk Cree Nation.

The Michelle Memorial Ambulance Service, which covers Pimicikamâk, approximately 500 kilometres north of Winnipeg, had its licence revoked after an ambulance driver was caught driving under the influence in 2021.

Since then, operators, like service co-ordinator Ron Hayes, have been doing what they can to regain their licence to assist the community.

Michelle Memorial Ambulance Service serves Pimicikamak Cree Nation in northern Manitoba. (Submitted by Ron Hayes)

The biggest hurdles to overcome, according to Hayes, are the inspections that are conducted by a licensing branch out of Winnipeg.

"The first inspection came up with some issues, that's fine, we fixed those up," he said. "They sent another guy up, he came up and did the next inspection." 

"After all the calculations, the next inspection, they had a whole huge big list of other things like that wasn't even on the first list."

Hayes said items on the list included replacing expired medications, needing a smaller sharps container (where sharp objects are placed after use), fixing or removing a broken camera in the building, and adjusting a bolt on the passenger seat in the back of the ambulance, among other things.

"We were so ticked off again, because they're just making it worse and worse," Hayes said. "My boss in Cross Lake, he's taking the ambulance and getting it safetied and getting stuff done to it."

Ambulance maintenance and purchasing new medications are dealt with in Thompson, Man., which is about 125 kilometres north of Cross Lake

Trying to help 

Hayes said many people in the community have been reaching out to the ambulance for assistance due to the provincial service being too busy.

"We had someone call," he said. "I guess it was last year sometime, I forget the date, they called asking for an emergency ambulance.

"The transportation guy phoned the other ambulance service and they were busy, they couldn't go, so he went there and took him in and that young person died."

In a community of around 8,500, Monias said he doesn't understand why more isn't being done by the province to bring back the service

A man with grey hair wearing glasses and a blue shirt is pictured against a white wall.
Pimicikamak Cree Nation Chief David Monias is shown in a Zoom call on Friday, May 27, 2022. (Zoom)

"It's a vital service that's required," he said. 

"I don't think that that will be acceptable anywhere else. I don't know why they're not pushing forward to get our ambulance licensed."

New community health centre

A new hospital is set to open in the Cross Lake community come May or June, according to Monias, which has him concerned about what future holds.

"What I'm scared of is that, you know, we will have a state-of-the-art centre," he said. "And how are we going to be able to respond to emergencies in an efficient manner, in a quicker manner?

"It's really crucial that they license them so we can have our ambulance going."

Hayes echoed these frustrations, saying he's been working and receiving for 20 years and has never had a problem with the licence until now.

"I just feel like the level of professionalism has dropped," he said, referring to the province's licensing and compliance branch. "I mean that that's how I see it."

The province responded that the Michelle Memorial Ambulance Service must resolve the issues identified by the inspectors to regain its licence.

"Those conditions have not yet been met," said the spokesperson. "At this time Cross Lake is being served by Cross Lake Fire and Ambulance Service."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ethan Butterfield is a former CBC reporter based in Thompson, Man. Following previous reporting positions in Saskatchewan and the Northwest Territories, Ethan worked with CBC to cover Manitoba’s northern sector and engage with its various communities. Ethan has also been a part of various documentaries that have found success on the festival circuit. He can be reached at ethan.butterfield@cbc.ca

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