Nfld. & Labrador

Ambulance report calls for big changes

An independent review of Newfoundland and Labrador's road ambulance program shows that there is significant room for improvement across the province.
An independent report show there is lots of room for improvement to the province's road ambulance services. (CBC)

An independent review of the province's road ambulance program concludes there's significant room for improvement in the service.

The report, conducted by consultants Fitch-Helleur, makes 10 recommendations including the creation of a single agency to administer and oversee the program, establishing a central dispatch system, and self-regulation of ambulance professionals.

Fitch-Helleur's Christine Zalar said a number of factors are causing problems for the service.

Christine Zalar, a consultant with Fitch-Helleur, says each of the 10 recommendations made in the report need attention. (CBC)

"I don't think there's any one thing that causes the inefficiencies," she said.

"I think the system has grown, and as it's grown it's become fragmented, and fragmentation by itself causes inefficiencies. So I don't think you can point to any one thing being the cause and effect."

According to Zalar, there are a couple of key issues to look at, but she said all of the recommendations should be addressed.

"We need to be able to look at the service-area-exclusivity; the inability to have the closest ambulance respond to (a call), whether it's a routine transfer or emergency. Those are some patient-centric things that I'd put high on the list," Zalar said.

"But the 10 recommendations we've made, and the very methodical stair-stepping that we have of those 10 recommendations, needs to be tended to."

She said it is "critical" that there be one central dispatch system that's able to track where all of the province's ambulances are to ensure the nearest available one responds to a call.

"You have 61 ambulance companies that are doing, and the operators are doing the very best that they can with what they have," Zalar said.

"The standardization across that, the ability for them to work with each other ... there's just some obstacles that have grown in their way over the years."

Minister concurs

Health and Community Services Minister Susan Sullivan said the creation of one centralized system to oversee all ambulance service makes sense.

Health Minister Susan Sullivan says the practice of solving issues in an area as they come up has lead to the fragmentation of the road ambulance service. (CBC)

"You call 61 different numbers in the province if you're looking for an ambulance right now," she said.

"If we could bring that into a central dispatch somehow, and ensure that ambulances are available where they need to be available and are able to respond to calls when we need to respond to calls, I think we're going to have a much more efficient system."

According to Sullivan, the practice of solving issues only in certain parts of the province as the arise contributed to inefficiencies in the system.

"I think what happened was we addressed the issues where they were, as opposed to looking at the whole of the system. So we've invested up to $50 million annually now, and that's just for the road ambulance section of it. That's not sustainable now in the long term," she said.

"In terms of a go-forward basis, what we need to do now is address some of the other issues that are out there and make this entire system more efficient."