Labrador Ambulance Service asked to give up contract, reinforcements on way

CBC News has been told by the family of a woman who died this week of a suspected heart attack that she waited more than 40 minutes for an ambulance to arrive.

Family of woman who died Tuesday complaining of 40-minute wait for ambulance

Minister of Health and Community Services John Haggie is sending another ambulance from Western Health and extra paramedics after complaints following a death Tuesday. (Glenn Payette/CBC)

The provincial health minister says extra ambulance resources are on the way to Happy Valley-Goose Bay and a contract with a private operator is in question, after multiple reports of delayed response times, including a case this week in which a patient died. 

"I do not have confidence in the ability of the current structure in Labrador Ambulance Service to honour its contract," John Haggie said, but he left the door open for the company to continue working in Labrador. 

A 74-year-old woman died Tuesday in Happy Valley-Goose Bay from what is believed to be a heart attack. Her family tells CBC News she waited more than 40 minutes for an ambulance to arrive.

It's just the latest in a series of complaints, uncovered by a CBC News investigation about long waits for ambulances in Happy Valley-Goose Bay. 

Labrador Ambulance Service, a private contractor that operates in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, is paid to provide two ambulances at all times. (Bailey White/CBC)

A Labrador-Grenfell Health review spanning November 2016 to March 2017 showed the private contractor had only one ambulance in service about half the time, despite being paid to operate two. 

Haggie called that "unacceptable" and said the health authority would closely monitor the company to ensure its service improved. 

Contract in question 

Despite that, Haggie says the contractor continues to operate with only one ambulance. 

"As I said before, that is not acceptable. The people of Happy Valley-Goose Bay rely on these services," Haggie said. 

The health minister said his department has asked the company to sign over responsibility for ambulance service to Labrador-Grenfell Health. 

Under the terms of the contract, Labrador Ambulance Service can refuse, in which case Haggie said the department would explore whether to terminate the contract or attempt to continue working with the operator. 

In the meantime, Haggie said Wednesday that a surplus ambulance from the Western Health region was on its way to Happy Valley-Goose Bay, and paramedics were also being flown in. 

As for who will pay for the additional costs, Haggie said, "we need the service and we'll work out the details on another occasion."

Mayor slams ambulance service

In an interview with CBC Radio's Labrador Morning Wednesday, Mayor John Hickey called the ambulance service "shabby and unprofessional."

Hickey called on the province to cancel the private contract and instead create a public-sector service. 

"We have no confidence in this contractor and we want Labrador-Grenfell Health to take over the ambulance service and operate the ambulance out of the hospital," he said.

Hickey pointed out that the health authority operates ambulances in Labrador City, St. Anthony and Sheshatshiu. He wants the same model in place in Happy Valley-Goose Bay. 

"I heard his comments," Haggie said, though he wouldn't commit to a public model.

"What I want is a stable, efficient, reliable service that meets the needs of Happy Valley-Goose Bay. How we get there and what it looks like, I'm not going to design that now on the fly."

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