CORNER BROOK — As an operator, Steve Carey believes the recommendations in a review of the province’s ambulance service are a step in the right direction.
“The system as it is right now is broken. It has to be fixed,” said Carey, an ambulance service owner.
His services include Tryco on the Northern Peninsula and Mackenzie’s Ambulance Service in Port aux Basques and the Codroy Valley. Carey and his partners also recently bought a service in Point Leamington and operate one Daniel’s Harbour.
“I can see where there are hundreds of thousands of dollars of inefficiencies in the system right now,” he said.
The review was completed by a partnership of Missouri-based EMS consultants Fitch and Associates and St. John’s-based consultants Jane Helleur and Associates.
Health Minister Susan Sullivan released the recommendations of the review on Monday. Among them is the need for a central dispatch system and a single agency to oversee services.
“Central dispatch has to be done. There’s no doubt about that,” said Carey. “There has to be a more efficient use of vehicles.”
Carey said day after day ambulances are on the road basically chasing each other. He said he could be sending an ambulance from Port aux Basques to St. John’s with a patient and another ambulance is sending one to St. John’s to pick up a patient.
“They’re going in empty with one. I’m going in full. We get in St. John’s, we reverse the roles. I’m coming back empty. They’re coming back full.”
He said a central dispatch system tracking all the ambulances would know the location of the vehicles and better dispatch them.
Carey said this is something he already does with Western Health. On Monday, he said, there were three trips from Port aux Basques bringing patients to Corner Brook and Western Health had a patient to be picked up in Stephenville. Carey said they could see the company had an ambulance in the city that was empty and directed it to divert back to Stephenville to pick up the patient for transport to Port aux Basques.
“It would help if it was provincewide,” he said.
He also thinks there should be something in place to help decide how ambulances are dispatched to calls — is it an emergency or is it a routine call. Right now he said operators have no choice but to dispatch as an emergency, but often when they show up at the location the problem is more routine in nature.
“I’d say 40 to 50 per cent of ambulance trips that are done could be taxi trips,” he said. “And as much a I hate the words transfer service. There has to be emergency machines that are dedicated to doing just emergencies.”
If someone needs to be taken from Port aux Basques to Corner Brook for an appointment with a doctor then Carey said there should be a transfer vehicle.
“It should not be a primary-response ambulance.”
As for a recommendation there needs to be a clarification of the operator roles, responsibilities and rights, Carey said “there has to be better policing of the contracts.”
He also said things like scheduling and fatigue management need to be addressed.
Sullivan said all of the recommendations would be cost-neutral, with the exception of the establishment of the central dispatch. It’s estimated that would cost $5 million.