Nova Scotia

Paramedic-turned-MLA asks AG to study N.S. ambulance service

Argyle-Barrington MLA Colton LeBlanc says it's taking too long for the provincial government to make necessary improvements to the ambulance system.

Colton LeBlanc says the system is suffering from 'paramedic burnout and poor morale'

Staffing levels and patient offload times continue to be major problems for Nova Scotia's ambulance system. (Robert Short/CBC)

During his time as a paramedic, Progressive Conservative MLA Colton LeBlanc said one concern stood out more than any other for him.

"There's nothing more that frightened me, sitting on the side of the highway in the middle of the night and being an hour and a half from the next nearest ambulance," said the Argyle-Barrington representative.

"When you have three ambulances covering from Yarmouth to Halifax, that's very concerning."

In an ongoing quest to get more information about the province's ambulance service and what ails it, LeBlanc wrote last week to acting auditor general Terry Spicer to request that his office examine the service, noting the contract was last audited in 2007.

In his letter, LeBlanc expressed concern that the Nova Scotia system could be susceptible to similar problems as those revealed last week in New Brunswick by that province's auditor general.

Kim Adair-MacPherson found the company running the New Brunswick ambulance service was being paid millions of dollars in performance incentives despite less-than-desirable service for some parts of that province.

Argyle-Barrington MLA Colton LeBlanc wants the auditor general to examine Nova Scotia's ambulance system. (CBC)

The contract between the Nova Scotia government and Emergency Medical Care Inc., which operates the ambulance service, is publicly available and up for renewal. A spokesperson for the Health Department said the contract does not include any performance-based bonuses.

Nova Scotia's ambulance service has been regularly in the news in recent years, due mainly to concerns about staffing levels and ambulance availability — the latter often on account of paramedics being tied up at emergency departments waiting to release patients.

That was cited last week as the likely cause for a patient in Amherst missing out on a scheduled cancer surgery because an ambulance that was prebooked to take him to Moncton, N.B., was not able to arrive on time.

Sharon Duffy said her husband, Wayne, remains in the Cumberland Regional Health Care Centre, awaiting a new date for surgery in Moncton. It's been determined that is the faster option than potentially transferring Wayne's care to Halifax and restarting the consultation process, said his wife.

N.S. man's cancer surgery cancelled after ambulance no-show

2 years ago
Duration 4:13
An Amherst, N.S., woman is speaking out after her husband's cancer surgery was cancelled because an ambulance did not show up.

Since her story became public, Duffy said she's been disheartened to learn that her husband's circumstances aren't all that unusual.

"I'm very frustrated," she said. "Our spirits are very low and it's taken a huge toll on our family."

LeBlanc said he believes at least some of the answers for ways to improve the system rest in a government-commissioned report that was delivered a year ago. At the time, then-health minister Randy Delorey said the report would not be made public until contract negotiations with Emergency Medical Care are complete.

Given what's at stake, LeBlanc said the public cannot wait any longer for the government to begin remaking the system. A good start, he said, would be looking at separate programs to deal with responding to emergencies or urgent calls and non-emergency patient transfers.

"The work conditions right now are leading to paramedic burnout and poor morale," said LeBlanc.

"It's time that [the government] open their eyes. I don't know what it's going to take for them to actually instill some real change into the system."

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Michael Gorman is a reporter in Nova Scotia whose coverage areas include Province House, rural communities, and health care. Contact him with story ideas at michael.gorman@cbc.ca

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