Manitoba couple wants health authority to change policy on ambulance passengers

A Niverville couple says their health authority doesn't let all patients have a family member or loved one travel with them when they need to take an ambulance. Rob Byers said his wife wasn't allowed to be with him when he needed one last September.

Rob Byers says his wife was left behind when he was taken by ambulance from his Niverville home to Winnipeg

Rob Byer said his advocate was left behind when he had to take an ambulance. His wife, Marie, was not allowed to travel with him. (Rob Byers)

A couple from Niverville, Man. is calling on their regional health authority to make changes to rules about passengers in ambulances.

Rob Byers was taken by ambulance from Niverville to Winnipeg, approximately 30 kilometres away, last fall. But his wife Maria wasn't allowed to go with him in the ambulance.

"It's really not doing a service to the people out in a rural community," Rob Byers said.

He has a number of medical conditions and called for an ambulance on Sept. 20th, complaining of chest pains. He had an appointment scheduled the next day at St. Boniface hospital, and was told by Emergency Medical Services staff that's where he would be taken.

Because his wife Marie knows his medical history, he wanted her to be by his side in the ambulance. But he was told Marie would have to find her own transportation. 

Marie doesn't drive because of her own medical conditions and eventually found a neighbour to drive her to Winnipeg.

At the time, Byers said he couldn't believe what he was being told.

"You're not dealing with just the patient. You're dealing with the family unit," he said. "My wife has heart conditions and stuff and she's going to sit out here and not be able to get to the hospital and not know what's going on with me."

Paramedics make decision

After Byers was released from hospital, he followed up with the Southern Health Authority.

Southern Health's policy is to rely on its paramedics to make a decision on a case-by-case basis about whether a passenger can travel with the patient in an ambulance, a spokesperson said by email.

A number of factors are taken into consideration, the health authority said, including the kind of care the patient requires, safety considerations and whether there is space available to accommodate passengers.

Byers wrote a number of letters to the health authority asking them to reconsider the policy. He also contacted other health authorities and found passengers are able to travel in ambulances in other regions.

The province said each region develops its own EMS transportation rules. Byers doesn't like that.

"I think it's all wishy-washy," he said. "It's self-serving. It's just meant to serve the EMS people and that's it."

A provincial group is reviewing all regional EMS transportation policies to develop a standardized policy for all provincial health authorites to follow, according to a spokesperson for the province.

Southern Health said it won't change its current policy until a provincial standard is developed.

"We want people to know that there is a possibility they're not going to allow a passenger in the ambulance," Marie Byers said.

"And that could be horrendous for people in rural areas because not everybody's got a ride to Winnipeg."