Nfld. & Labrador

Hour wait for ambulance: People 'are going to die,' say Happy Valley-Goose Bay families

You can drive from one end of Happy Valley Goose-Bay to the other in about 15 minutes but there are reports of ambulances taking quadruple that amount of time to respond to emergencies.

Drivers have to make their way to ambulances after an emergency call comes in

Diane Montague says it took an ambulance an hour to respond, when her dad had a stroke in November. He died after being brought to hospital. (Jacob Barker/CBC)

Some Happy Valley-Goose Bay families are wondering why it takes an ambulance an hour to respond to emergencies in a town you can drive through in 15 minutes.

That's how long it took when Louie Montague, 81, suffered a stroke and fell down some outside steps.

"He ended up with a bleeding on the brain because of the stroke and a bleeding outside of the brain because of the fall," his eldest daughter, Diane Montague, told CBC's Labrador Morning.

"He passed away two weeks later."

The hospital in Happy Valley-Goose Bay is in a central location, but the ambulance bay is located on one far end of town. (Jacob Barker/CBC)

Montague said it was November when her father fell down, so her family bundled him in blankets and waited, calling three times in the 60 minutes it took for medical professionals to arrive.

"We thought about maybe trying to get him into [our own] vehicle but he couldn't walk so we didn't know if we'd do more harm ... trying to take him down ourselves," she said.

Private medics don't wait by ambulance

Ambulance services in Happy Valley-Goose Bay are provided privately through Labrador Ambulance Services Ltd. which has ties to Freake's Ambulance Services Ltd. based in Lewisporte.

Its staff in Labrador aren't required to wait by their ambulances.

The ambulance service in Happy Valley-Goose Bay is privately run, and drivers do not stay with the vehicles when they are on shift. (Jacob Barker/CBC)

When they are called about an emergency, they drive to the ambulance bay on the far end of town before responding to the call.

That's the practice with "many operators" according to the province's department of health.

"By provincial standard, ambulance operators have to be en route to an emergency call within 10 minutes of receiving the call for 90 per cent of the emergency calls received," it said in an email to CBC.

"This is known in the ambulance industry as chute time."

The average chute time in Happy Valley-Goose Bay is 6.2 minutes, just under the province's 6.3-minute average, according to the department.

Times are recorded by paramedics on patient-care record forms — the same forms used to calculate their pay.

Another example

"I mean there are people that are going to die because of this," said Tammy Burton, who also waited a long time for an ambulance when her son needed one.

"There's no doubt in my mind that that's what's going to happen if something doesn't change with the ambulance service."

Tammy Burton said it took the ambulance about 40 minutes to arrive when her son fell to the ground at work, in a store about two minutes from the ambulance bay. (Submitted)

Burton's son, 17, dropped to the floor at work in late April, stiffening and shaking on the ground, busting his lip and chin in the process.

She estimated it took between 30 and 40 minutes for the ambulance to arrive when the drive from the ambulance bay to North Mart, her son's workplace, is about a two minute drive, less with flashing lights and sirens.

Why it took 40 minutes, I have no idea.- Tammy Burton

Burton said she asked the responding medical professionals what took so long and said they told her about chute time and how they don't wait next to the emergency vehicles.

"Even if they had the 10 minutes that should have been 11 minutes total, 12 minutes tops. Why it took 40 minutes, I have no idea."

Town calls it 'a matter of life and death'

Town Councilor, Bert Pomeroy isn't shying away from the stakes.

"In some cases it could result in a matter of life and death," he said.

Councillor Bert Pomeroy says the ambulance issue is a matter of life and death. (Jacob Barker/CBC)

"If that person is waiting anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour for an ambulance service, then there's something terribly wrong with that situation."

He said the town will be meeting with Labrador-Grenfell Health in the coming days to discuss the service contract.

Council has also approached the service provider, Pomeroy said, but hasn't received a response.

The town is looking at the location of the ambulance bay — on the end of town — to see if that's the most ideal place for it.

Labrador West

Unlike in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, ambulance services in Labrador City and Wabush are provided by Labrador-Grenfell Health.

In that region, one paramedic waits at the hospital with an ambulance while another paramedic is on call.

in Labrador West, community members show off a vehicle used to bring on call paramedics to an ambulance on the scene of an emergency. (Submitted)

When a call comes in, the on-call paramedic meets the ambulance on scene by driving there in a "non-patient transport vehicle" which was donated by the Grenfell Foundation in December 2016.

When asked why Labrador West has a public service while Happy Valley-Goose Bay is under a private contractor, the department of health said "the nature of the service is one that has grown historically and there is no set policy for regional health authority-based delivery vs private delivery."

"On a go forward basis we will look for [the] most cost-effective service arrangement that meets the region/area being served."

Labrador Ambulance Services Ltd. has not returned CBC's request for comment.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Katie Breen

Video producer

Katie Breen makes video content for CBC in St. John's. She's been working in news for 10 years. You can reach her at katie.breen@cbc.ca.

With files from Bailey White

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