Ambulance operator fears program review will result in cuts

Diane Crocker
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CORNER BROOK  The province has started a review of the provincial ambulance program, but Bob Patten fears decisions on how to make the service more efficient have already been made.

Bob Patten is owner of Reliable Ambulance.

The “targeted consultation process” begins on Jan. 14, and sessions are planned for across the province to give stakeholders an opportunity to provide input into what could and should change to support a more effective and efficient ambulance service.

Patten is the president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Association of Ambulance Services. He’ll be at the session planned for Corner Brook later this month, but not in his role with the association.

The sessions with stakeholders are by invitation only. Patten, who owns Reliable Ambulance, was invited to take part as an operator.

 “I’m a little worried about it to tell you the truth, because the government wouldn’t have ordered a  review if they didn’t want to make changes,” he said.

He believes government already has its mind made up and the report that will be generated through the consultation process will show exactly what government wants to do.

“When they talk about efficiencies and all this stuff, we know what that means. That means they’re gonna try to find a way to cut the numbers of calls and try to find more efficient ways of delivering the service,” said Patten.

“To me that means cutbacks.”

But he doesn’t know how government can cut a service that is already stretched. He said it costs $1 million to run a hospital-based ambulance versus $200,000 an ambulance through a private service.

“How can you cut something that’s already so cheap?”

Patten said part of the problem with the service lies in the population growth experienced in the province over the last five to 10 years.

‘Two-way street’

He said there is a “two-way” street going to the mainland.

“All the young people are leaving the province and the people that left 20 years ago and 30 years ago, all the older people, are coming back to Newfoundland to retire.”

This means the province has a higher percentage of elderly people than anywhere else in Canada. In fact, he said, 80 per cent of the work his service does comes from senior citizens.

“Our volume of calls in Newfoundland would be higher than the national average. Which is not our fault.”

He blames it on the way hospitals are structured. He said they are working at 110 per cent capacity and generating a lot of transfers.

Instead of a patient staying in hospital until they are well enough to travel by car, Patten said they end up being transferred by ambulance either to another hospital, a long-term care facility or their own home. Ambulances are also regularly called upon to transfer patients from one facility to another for tests.

Again, Patten said operators did not cause this problem.

“We’re worried and I’m worried about the health-care part of it. The bottom line’s that I think there’s a lot of people who qualify for ambulance today that’s not going to qualify for ambulance down the road.”

The Fitch-Helleur partnership has been awarded the $250,000 contract to carry out the review. The partnership is made up of Fitch and Associates from Plattsville, Missouri, and Jane Helleur and Associates, a management consulting firm based in St. John’s.

Twitter: WS_DianeCrocker

Organizations: Newfoundland and Labrador Association of Ambulance Services, Fitch-Helleur, Fitch and Associates Jane Helleur and Associates

Geographic location: Corner Brook, Newfoundland, Canada Plattsville Missouri

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Recent comments

  • gerry
    January 20, 2013 - 01:07

    i just want people to know that because mr patten buys his used ambulances from ontario it doesnt mean that they are unsafe by no means . once he gets these ambulances from ontario they go through a saftey check from front to rear and anything that needs to be replaced is replaced believe me , he has zero tolarance for anything not in tip top shape. Also for the ambulance having 300 or 400 thousand km on it thats nothing on these vehicles .He runs a very efficient and safe business that he takes pride in . Also people are always talking about his personal things like house ,cars , and what ever else he has they dont realize that the man owns a lot more than just reliable ambulance . and if he can afford to live like he does then all the power to him , some people might just be jealous even me . stick to the topic at hand and not what he has please .

    January 11, 2013 - 17:43

    I cant believe how some people cant stick to the facts it sickens me, i am a paramedic working with a private service in NL with years of experience i have actually worked with a couple different services reliable not being one of them but i know medics who work there...if i could move to the corner brook area and work with reliable i would trust me, patten has always run the best units and best equipment of any private service on the island by far, with a full time mechanic on staff to take care of any issuses or breakdowns with the ambulances. Patten has some of the best stretchers, tracked stairchairs, and scoop stretchers on his units that paramedics from some other services only wish they had, you will not see rusted up beat up ambulances like in some areas because he also employs a full time body man to keep the ambulances looking tip top, he takes pride in his vehicles. their schedual of 10 day on and 4 days off gives the medics a 4 day weekend every second weekend i dont know of any other like it, and the 10 days on is a mix of 12 hr shifts and on call time, and with all the staff he employs there is still plenty of time off during those 10 days, if you people are looking to bash a bad private operator your bashing the wrong one

  • Another Medic
    January 10, 2013 - 01:12

    I'm reading down thru peoples comments and it seems as though everyone has something negitive to say about Patten. What these "critics" don't seem to mention is that "Patten" has one of the better private services running on the island. He pays higher wages then most of the private services on the island, higher than 80% to be exact. You've got Medics that come from the mainland to find employment because they can't get any in their own province without experience. Patten gives them this opportunity. They come to him,NOT vise versa. This is also the one service that is equipped with the proper stretcher to carry over weight patients, not even the hospital based ambulance has this convenience. His service also has an "in-house" mechanic that maintains the dependability of all the so called "out-dated" vehicles If there is ever a noticed problem or issue with an ambulance it's pulled off the road and fixed. Sure, their schedule does require them to be on-call for 10 days straight,but realistically if they work during the day their off at night. If your going to criticize be sure to have some knowledge or fact to back it up. I feel that most comments are pointed towards Bob Patten rather than the whole private service industry. Be professional with your comments and don't discriminate against one owner/operator because of your hatred or animosity towards him.

  • justmyopinion
    January 09, 2013 - 21:45

    Well boys and girls it looks like we have some envious and jealous paramedics and their wives out there. It's sad that when these news articles are printed that everyone feels it's their given right for a personal attack. While I'm sure some of these paramedics have concerns why not stick to the story. I have personally worked for the two Corner Brook services, one being Reliable Ambulance and the other Western Health Care. I can tell you from my years with Reliable that Bob Patten was always very proud of his staff and kept his equipment and ambulances in top running order. I can assure you this was Not the same at Western Health where you often found yourself driving less then top notch ambulances lacking equipment that were always in the garage for repairs. Being on call after your shift was compulsary at Western and that was part of the schedule which is expected from this type of business. If this 24/7 job doesn't suit your life style then maybe you made the wrong career choice and it's time to leave and look for a different job. As for Bob Patten who built a business from scratch to a thirty five plus years of service surely he deserves to live in a nice house and drive nice vehicles. That's the nature of private enterprize versus government hospital based services. If someone feels this is injustice to them why not stop whining and complaining, get off your ass and start your own business and lets see how you do. You people always seem to have all the right answers. Put your money where your mouth is.

  • NFLD Medic
    January 05, 2013 - 21:27

    Ah Bob Patten, always so humble and humanitarian in front of the reporters, but fails to talk about how he was working his staff to the point of exhaustion until OHS stepped in and told him to cease immediately because what he was doing was illegal. He also neglects to mention how his staff are grossly underpaid, horribly under-equiped, and what equipment they do possess is outdated. Oh sure, he might get some newer equipment in for a couple month trial, but unless he is given a steep discount by the manufacter, there isn't a snowball's chance that he'll actually pay for equipment that would benefit his employees and make their jobs even a tiny bit safer and easier. And proper vehicles? HA! The man only buys used vehicles from the mainland that are so old and broken down that they are constantly needing tons of repair work just to keep them marginally functional. This man doesn't care one iota for the ambulance services of Newfoundland and he cares a great deal less about the patients his medics take care of. The only thing he cares about is how much bigger he can make the number that shows up on his bank statement every month. You want to know what Bob fears, he fears the investigation will turn up the fact that Bob Patten has absolutely no business owning an emergency medical service, fine him thousands or perhaps tens or hundreds of thousands for multiple health, saftey, and equipment violations, and basically put him out of business. THAT is what Bob Patten worries about, not the people. The best thing that can come out of this investigation/study is for Bob Patten and all of the private ambulance services to be taken over by the government or a single private company NOT from Newfoundland that actually knows how to operate a service like this, and turned into one, single, provincewide service.

  • Shocked
    January 05, 2013 - 10:45

    a true un biased opion has been long over due. the ambulance operators have had a strangle hold on the this vital componant of health care for far too long. if mr. patton has had his clients best interest at heart why has he not brought advanced levels of care to his company like they have in St. john's? here is why..... eastern health isnt looking to get rich buy making a substandard service by cutting corners at every turn. mr patton change is the tune we all dance too weather we like it or not.. it might be time for the operators associtation to give up the ghost before they have to live like some of thier employees.

  • MedicWife
    January 05, 2013 - 10:43

    I am loving all the previous comments. All are right on the mark. Stop you're complaining Bob Patten. As a wife of one of your former employees I know the poor wages, hours and benefits you had provided him with. You like all the other private service operators are just in it for the money. As Newf medic stated " Eastern Health performs 1/3 of the provinces ambulance calls with an operating budget of $5 million, and the other 2/3 are done by the rest of the province on a budget of $45 million". Obviously there is a problem. So in my opinion Mr. Patten, you will not get any support from the public. This review is something our province needs. The ambulance program would be a much better system if it was updated and run like NS EHS. Watch out Mr. Patten It will happen .

  • pat
    January 05, 2013 - 09:42

    I'm sure most people in corner brook know the home Patten is living in. Go see why he's worried about losing money, Its a mansion!!!!!!!

    • david
      January 05, 2013 - 13:46

      Pat: Yopur post is the kind of petty, irrelevant, envious bile that is so disgustingly typical in Corner Brook. Please stick to facts if you have a point to make.

  • nlmedic
    January 04, 2013 - 21:05

    in my opinion bob patton doesnt care about anything except his bottom line .......his new ambulances are used ambulances from quebec or ontario that have been takin out of service there.Bob Patton says he can run one ambulance for 1/5th of the cost of a hospital because on average he has his staff working on call 24 hours a day for 10 days straight to be paid for 80 hours. how many of the public would call an ambulance if they knew the attendents may not have slept in 24 hrs or so..the private service operators arent concerned about the health and safety of their staff, the patient, or anyone on the roadways.All ambulance personal choose this profession to help others its time for the govement or somebody to help us every other medical profession has a union ie nurses union, nlma for physican to regulate hours of work,days of work,payscale. paramedics cannot negotiate any of these things. The best thing that could happen for EMS is for one public entity control the whole province and have equality in schedual and pay for all EMS province wide.

    • read a book
      January 05, 2013 - 16:47

      keep the comments confined to the story and be polite . (as wester star has mentioned on the bottom of the page). stick to the story regarding prgram cuts not degrading Mr. Patten (which you all have spelled incorrectly by the way). Have some intergity and stick to the facts as opposed to being bitter and disgruntled. Would you do anything different if you were Mr. Patten? Honestly?

    • NFLD Medic
      January 08, 2013 - 15:12

      @Read a book, If you've never worked for or had to deal with Bob Patten when it comes to paramedic matters, then you really can't understand why there is so much anger on this board. The point people are making here is that Patten is only offering lip service to the public via the media when it comes to being concerned about program cuts. What he's really worried about is the fact that he will probably be forced to either properly equip, train, and pay staff to do their job as opposed to cutting every corner possible with equipment, firing hard working staff just so he can bring in someone fresh so he doesn't have to give raises, or that he will be forced to relinquish control of his company to the government. Either way, what concerns Bob Patten about this review is the fact that once it is complete and changes are implemented, he won't be able to have his $300,000 home and be able to routinely keep seven brand new and highly expensive cars in his garage. These are the facts that you are asking people to stick to. They aren't pretty, so if you have difficulty accepting that I would suggest you stop reading this board. You ask if we would do anything different if we were Bob Patten. I can honestly say without hesitation that YES, things would be done very differently. You can provide adequatte training, current and functioning equipment, and reasonable pay rates in his business and still make a very, very good living. One thing to remember is that Patten's business doesn't make money from emergency calls, but from the tens of thousands of non-emergency patient transfers that are subsidized by the government. The man is making money hand over fist and has absolutely no problem keeping the majority of it himself instead of putting it back into the company to make sure he has a quality EMS service.

  • MAC
    January 04, 2013 - 14:14

    Nobody spoke up for me or many other medics that I know had no choice but to leave the province unless they were willing to work for little money or benefits. I have no sympathy for the private owners and hope the province goes as one service. If only the medics spoke up about the things that they've seen in their years of service. I don't know how I ever managed to work as I did in the Newfoundland system.

  • NL Medic
    January 04, 2013 - 13:13

    Bob Paton and the private owners/operators in this province are not afraid of cuts to ambulance service funding. What they are afraid of is this review is going to cost them more money. Funding needs to be appropriately shared between all types of services (community, private, hospital). That being said there shouldn't be different types either contract it out to a company like Medivae (ie. Nova Scotia, PEI, New Brunswick) to take over the entire province, OR put the contract out to municipalites (i.e. Ontario), OR have regional health services (which this province currently has but the regional services contract out to private/community operators) like Manitoba (but don't have sub contracts like we currently have). Also this review needs to address saftey concerns for patients and paramedics as far as equipment and vehicles go. As well as fatigue policies, on call hours need to be cut back. Also their should be an ability for workers to negotiate contracts with their employeer. Currently that ability is not their with private owners, every attempt for a service to bring in a union in this province unless you work for a hospital based service has failed.

  • Barrelman in Cape Breton
    January 04, 2013 - 12:19

    I'm surprized Newfoundland and Labrador hasn't yet brought private ambulance services across the province under the umbrella of a government operated and controlled service such as EHS here in Nova Scotia. In fact, as a Newfoundlander I'm ashamed Newfoundland abnd Labrador still lags behind in that area of health care service. And as for young people leaving their home province for jobs on the mainland: some of them are here in Cape Breton and other parts of Nova Scotia in good-paying careers with EHS as trained, fully-qualified paramedics. I've spoken with some of them. Why are they here? Because the oportunities for training, pay and career opportunities as para-medics aren't available working with private ambulance operators back "home".

  • ParamedicsOpinion
    January 04, 2013 - 10:21

    So, I find it quite interesting that the OWNER of Reliable Ambulance is suddenly concerned about the well-being of his patients. Neat that he failed to mention the quality of work he provides for his staff, and the "excellent" quality of care he is able to deliver in ambulances with 400, 000 kms on it. A LOT of routine transfers simply do not require ambulance transport. Patients are able to take taxis to routine appointments at the doctors office, but they choose not to because Social Services pays their bill. The way routine transports are authorized is generally a Doctor's or Registered Nurse's signature. This has left the system up to a lot of abuse and more revenue generation by these so called "concerned ambulance operators." Ambulance's should primarily be an EMERGENCY mode of transportation. I know I went to school to become a paramedic specializing in pre-hospital care, not inter-facility taxi transfers.

  • newfmedic
    January 04, 2013 - 10:09

    What Bob doesn't mention is that the St. John's region of Eastern Health performs 1/3 of the provinces ambulance calls with an operating budget of $5 million, and the other 2/3 are done by the rest of the province on a budget of $45 million. So tell me Bob, how cheap are you the private services to operate again? It costs 4 times as much with the private service to perform the same number of calls when you're paying the medics significantly less. Efficiency is what this province needs, and I hope this review gets rids of private operators who scam the system to make a profit. The medics and the people of this province deserve better and it's about time they get it.

  • MedicBurnside
    January 04, 2013 - 09:50

    Bob Patton is scared that he is actually going to have to start paying his employees properly, cut back their on call hours and actually run an ambulance service. It is the exact same with every private operator across the province. Private services need to go and the province needs to be taken over by 1 operator. There needs to be an ability to unionize and negotiate a contract with workers . That ability is not currently there. The province needs to dole out the money evenly. Paramedics across this province should have equality. Paramedics currently do not get paid overtime with private operators and in most cases if they do it is straight time not time and a half. Safety issues, equipment issues and ambulance regulations in this province seriously need to be addressed. Private owners aren't scared of cuts they are scared of the mandates that are going to come down and actually give paramedics a decent working environment.