Nfld. & Labrador

Labrador Ambulance Service considering legal action against provincial government

Two months after the government axed their contract, an embattled ambulance service is disputing the reason for termination.

Wait time for fatal incident was half what was reported, lawyers for ambulance say

Labrador Ambulance Service is taking aim at the provincial government and regional health authority. (Katie Breen/CBC)

Labrador Ambulance Service is considering legal action against the provincial government after the death of a patient led to their contract being terminated.

In an email sent to CBC News on Tuesday evening, lawyers for the ambulance service disputed the facts of the death and pointed blame towards the province's health authority in Labrador.

They took issue with Health and Community Services Minister John Haggie, specifically.

"Minister Haggie shamefully assigned blame to LAS and avoided any responsibility, thereby tarnishing the reputation of LAS and its employees in the process," reads the three-page letter from law firm Hughes and Brannan.

Fatal incident leads to end of contract

The letter focused solely on an Oct. 17 incident that was reported by CBC News at the time.

Family of a 74-year-old woman said she waited 40 minutes for an ambulance after suffering a heart attack. The woman died.

The next day, Haggie said he had lost confidence in Labrador Ambulance Services.

Health and Community Services Minister John Haggie axed the province's contract with Labrador Ambulance Service after an elderly woman died Oct. 17. (Sherry Vivian/CBC)

On Oct. 20, he terminated the government's contract in Happy Valley-Goose Bay and announced the province would send in casual paramedics from around Newfoundland to take over.

In their letter Tuesday, the ambulance service disputed the 40-minute claim and turned the blame around.

"It must be understood that when an individual calls 911 for emergency services in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, 911 first dispatches the call to Labrador Grenfell Health (LGH), the entity for which Minister Haggie is responsible," the release said.

The public has a right to know the events as they unfolded.- Labrador Ambulance Service

That call was made at 10:18 a.m., they said, but it included the wrong address. Two minutes later, a second call was made from 911 to Labrador-Grenfell to correct the mistake.

The following timeline, laid out by the ambulance service, has yet to be confirmed by Labrador-Grenfell or the Department of Health and Community Services.

The health authority relayed the call to the ambulance service at 10:21 a.m., but used the wrong address, said the ambulance service. At the time, they had an ambulance dispatched to another "serious" situation.

The ambulance service said it requested help from the health authority, which has its own ambulance.

At 10:31 a.m., Labrador Ambulance Service called Labrador-Grenfell back, gave a status update and again requested help, they said. The service claims Labrador-Grenfell repeated the wrong address again at 10:33 a.m.

Four minutes later, the ambulance service called the fire department and asked for assistance. At 10:42 a.m., Labrador Ambulance Service said, they arrived on scene along with the firefighters — 24 minutes after the original call.

"Notwithstanding its prior call, and the incorrect address information provided by LGH, LAS arrived on the scene and approximately the same time," the letter reads. "Half the time as was reported by the media."

Ambulance granted to LAS on Oct. 18

Labrador Ambulance Service had one ambulance out for repairs at the time.

In the letter sent by Hughes and Brannan, the ambulance service says it let the health authority know and requested to use their ambulance for the duration of the repairs.

That request was initially declined, the letter said, but Labrador-Grenfell turned over the keys to their ambulance the day after the Oct. 17 incident.

Labrador Ambulance Service held a private contract in Happy Valley-Goose Bay to provide two ambulances at all times. (Bailey White/CBC)

CBC News has requested comments from Labrador Ambulance Services and Labrador Grenfell Health, but provincial health minister John Haggie said the matter is in the hands of lawyers. However, he said the incident speaks to the need for an audit into ambulance services in general in Newfoundland and Labrador.

The letter did not mention any of the previous incidents CBC News has reported relating to Labrador Ambulance Service — such as the death of an 81-year-old man who had a one-hour wait time, allegedly doctored response times or the fact they staffed one ambulance 48 per cent of the time, despite being contracted for two ambulances.

But Labrador Ambulance Service is adamant the government holds some responsibility for the incident on Oct. 17.

"No mention was made of the part government played in this unfortunate event," their letter reads. "The public has a right to know the events as they unfolded."

With files from Katie Breen and Bailey White