Ambulance operator fears program review will result in cuts

Diane Crocker
Published on January 4, 2013
Bob Patten is owner of Reliable Ambulance.
Geraldine Brophy

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.

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.

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