Nfld. & Labrador

Plenty of blame to go around, says family of man who waited hour for ambulance

The provincial health minister’s assertion that a private ambulance operator in Labrador should apologize for its service is drawing criticism.

'We haven't heard anything. An apology would be nice,' daughter says

Diane Montague's father waited more than an hour for an ambulance to arrive after he suffered a stroke and fell down outside his son's home in November 2016. (Bailey White/CBC)

The provincial health minister's assertion that a private ambulance operator in Labrador should apologize for its service is drawing criticism from the family of a man who waited over an hour for an ambulance, and from an organization representing operators.

Diane Montague, whose father waited for an ambulance in November 2016 after suffering a stroke and falling down outside, said responsibility lies with both the contractor and the province.

"Government is passing it off on the contractor, but they hired the contractor. So who's responsible?" Montague asked. "I think they're just as much at fault."

Minister John Haggie made the remarks during an interview with CBC's Labrador Morning. He was responding to a five-month-long review, which revealed the operator only had one ambulance on the road 48 per cent of the time, despite being paid to operate two.

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)

Montague said no one from Labrador Ambulance Service, Labrador-Grenfell Health or the provincial health department has ever approached her family to apologize or to explain why her father waited so long for an ambulance, despite being only four kilometres from the hospital.

"We haven't heard from anybody other than CBC," Montague said, "Not a thing saying why it happened or ... what we could have done to prevent it. No, we haven't heard anything. An apology would be nice."

Monatgue's father died in hospital two weeks after the stroke.

"Could that [have] been prevented if we had a second ambulance on? We don't know, right? And it's sad."

'It's a 2-way street'

Wade Smith, head of the provincial association of private ambulance operators, said a lack of money and resources makes it difficult for contractors such as Labrador Ambulance Service to fill vacant positions and keep two ambulances running.

"It's happened in other situations in the province as well," he said, "It's staffing issues."

Wade Smith, the president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Private Ambulance Operators Association, says private operators can't compete with wages offered in the public sector, or at Muskrat Falls. (CBC )

According to its contract with the province and the health authority, Labrador Ambulance Service pays primary care paramedics $21.50 an hour.

In the public sector, the same job pays between $23.88 and $27.97. At the Muskrat Falls construction site, just outside Happy Valley-Goose Bay, primary care paramedics make $59.07, which includes pay in lieu of vacation and medical benefits.

"Their wage is higher than us, government hasn't seen fit to even try to bring us on par," Smith said.   

"It's a two-way street. Government bears the responsibility of what they will allow us to have, so our hands are tied."

Health minister John Haggie says Labrador Ambulance Service owes an apology to patients who've had long waits for ambulances. (Mark Quinn/CBC)

When asked if the operator needs more money to fill vacancies, Haggie said, "I think it would be a far better approach to ask, 'Why have you not used the money we gave you to do what we asked you to do?' Rather than throw more money at it."

CBC's repeated requests for comment from Labrador Ambulance Service have gone unanswered.