New Brunswick

Grand Manan family calls for return of air ambulance

The family of a Grand Manan woman who died while waiting for medical transport is calling for the provincial government to restore the island's air ambulance service.

Marjorie Stanley died waiting for transport

Atlantic Charter provided an air ambulance service to Grand Manan for 30 years. (CBC)

The family of a Grand Manan woman who died while waiting for medical transport is calling for the provincial government to restore the island's air ambulance service.

Marjorie Stanley, 86, died of a second heart attack on July 8 while waiting four hours for air transport to Saint John.

Shelly Cook, her daughter, says she’s worried something similar could happen to someone else now that the community has lost a contracted emergency air service.

"If it had been a serious accident, and a person needed to be flown out, our air service could have been 20 minutes to the mainland," said Cook.

"If you have to wait three or four hours, another, younger patient may have died."

The Department of Health has asked Ambulance New Brunswick (ANB) to provide details about the case. The review is ANB's top priority, officials said.

The provincial government is also looking at when and how patients are transported off island by air.

Health Minister Madeleine Dubé is scheduled to meet with the village council on July 19.

Contract dispute

Melanie Sonnennberg, general manager of Atlantic Charter, says they couldn't agree to parts of the new contract with Ambulance New Brunswick. (CBC)

For 30 years, Atlantic Charter transported ill or injured Grand Manan residents to hospitals on the mainland.

An ambulance would take the patient to the island’s airport and the plane would be there, ready to transport the patient to Saint John.

But Atlantic Charter’s contract with Ambulance New Brunswick ended on July 1 because the company didn’t agree with parts of the new contract offer.

Now, residents have to rely on ANB's AirCare plane, which is stationed in Moncton, services the entire province and is sometimes hindered by poor weather conditions.

Otherwise, the only other options are a helicopter from Nova Scotia, or the ferry, which is equipped with a sick bay but only departs four to seven times a day, depending on the time of year, and takes about 90 minutes, plus the ambulance ride from Blacks Harbour to a hospital.

In Stanley's case, the AirCare plane in Moncton was called to transport her around 9 a.m., but mechanical problems delayed its departure for at least an hour.

Then the plane was sent to another, more critical situation in a different part of the province and a helicopter from Nova Scotia was dispatched instead.

Residents angry

Rhonda Boynton says Atlantic Charter helped get her son to emergency care in less than an hour. (CBC)

Other Grand Manan residents are also voicing their anger over the loss of the contracted service.

Rhonda Boynton says it helped get her son emergency care in Saint John in less than an hour.

"To me, if you've got to wait 45 minutes to an hour for someone else to get in here, we're lost, totally lost," she said  "We're isolated, we're on a small island."

ANB officials have said the new system is in the best interest of patients and they’re confident there will be no ill effect on services to the people of Grand Manan.

But Melanie Sonnenberg, the general manager of Atlantic Charter, disagrees.

"I don't think they've chosen to recognize the uniqueness of our island, and the fact that we are isolated," she said.

"We don't have the same benefits that other communities have, so these options that we hear about, often times while they may work for a community in the middle of the province, they don't work for us."

Charlotte-The Isles Liberal MLA Rick Doucet has said the provincial government should restore the previous air service.