Nfld. & Labrador

Ambulance operator should apologize for 'unacceptable' service: health minister

A report showed the private operator regularly failed to live up to its contract with the department and Labrador-Grenfell Health.

Labrador Ambulance Service complied with contract only half the time, review shows

Health Minister John Haggie says the Labrador Ambulance Service's record is unacceptable, and Labrador-Grenfell Health will be closely monitoring the private contractor. (CBC)

The provincial health minister is calling on Labrador Ambulance Service to apologize to people who've had long waits for ambulances, after a report showed the private operator regularly failed to live up to its contract.

The company is obligated to have two ambulances on duty in Happy Valley-Goose Bay at all times, but from Nov. 1 2016, to March 31, 2017, there was only one ambulance on the road 48 per cent of the time.

At its worst, in December 2016, the contractor had two ambulances only nine per cent of the time.

"The performance is unacceptable," said John Haggie, minister of health and community services.

The bottom line in a table published by Labrador-Grenfell Health shows the percentage of time two ambulances were available. (Labrador Grenfell Health)

The review comes after a series of CBC stories about long waits for ambulances.

In one case, an 81-year-old man waited an hour for an ambulance after suffering a stroke, even though he was fewer than four kilometres from the hospital. He died two weeks later.  

"I would really rather hope that the ambulance provider would take it upon themselves to apologize to those people," Haggie said, referring to that case, and others outlined in the report.

Labrador-Grenfell Health keeping a close eye 

Since the review began earlier this year, Labrador Ambulance Services has made some operational changes. Its base is now in a more central part of Happy Valley-Goose Bay and GPS equipment has been installed in ambulances.

In June 2017 Labrador Ambulance Service moved to a new, more central base in hopes of cutting down on response times. (Bailey White/CBC)

On top of that, Haggie said, the health authority will routinely audit the service, to make sure it remains up to par.

"It's really important that we find out [if] what we're paying for is actually the service we're getting."

Hopes to recover some money

In June, the head of an ambulance operators association told CBC private contractors are understaffed "90 per cent of the time."

Haggie wouldn't comment on whether staffing was an issue in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, or whether the wage negotiated as part of the province's contract with Labrador Ambulance Service — $21.50 an hour for a fully-trained paramedic —was enough to attract staff.

"We've provided them the money that was expected under the contract, and they have not spent the money appropriately," Haggie said.

As for recouping money, the minister said he hopes that can be negotiated.

An audit by the Department of Health and Community Services found the health authority overpaid by $47,553 over six months.

The department review said Labrador Ambulance Services should return that money, and that the health authority should withhold partial payments until the contractor is fully compliant.

A phone message and email to Labrador Ambulance Service were not returned.

About the Author

Bailey White

CBC News

Bailey White is a journalist based in St. John's.