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Regional director says ambulance response was complicated by telecommunication error
BAIE VERTE, N.L. — Central Health says a delayed ambulance response to a mining accident in Baie Verte was caused by a telecommunication issue beyond their control.
On Saturday, Dec. 1, as the town’s Santa Claus parade was underway, the RCMP and Baie Verte fire department were called to the town’s Anaconda Mining site to attend to an industrial accident that resulted in one injury.
Baie Verte Mayor Brandon Philpott says it took nearly an hour for an ambulance to arrive on the scene.
According to Traci Foss, regional program director for emergency and medical services with Central Health, the Dec. 1 incident was further complicated because the Baie Verte Peninsula Health Centre was unable to reach the ambulance services in La Scie.
"For us to have two active mines, and an active mill, and to have this kind of access to ambulance services is ludicrous.”
-Baie Verte Mayor Brandon Philpott
“When the call actually came in, (the Baie Verte Peninsula Health Centre) tried to connect with the ambulance in La Scie to respond because it was much closer to the mine than the Baie Verte Junction,” Foss said. “They could not reach the La Scie ambulance due to these telecommunication issues and they proceeded to reach out to the ambulance stationed at the Baie Verte Junction.”
According to Philpott and Baie Verte Fire Chief Lorne Head, the fire department was called directly by the Baie Verte Peninsula Health Centre to respond, knowing that the ambulance was an hour’s drive away in Baie Verte Junction.
Once on scene, the fire department took the injured worker from the mining site, placed him on a backboard and brought him to an area to keep warm and wait for the ambulance to arrive. It was another 45 minutes of waiting before it did.
“Our fire department went down there as first responders and brought the young man that was injured to a spot where the ambulance could easily access him. Then they were waiting nearly an hour for the ambulance to show,” Philpott said. “The firemen should not be relied on as an emergency response, they don’t have the level of training these paramedics do. For us to have two active mines, and an active mill, and to have this kind of access to ambulance services is ludicrous.”
The distance between the Anaconda Mining site in Baie Verte and the La Scie Medical Centre is approximately 52 kilometres. Philpott says the distance from where the ambulance is stationed in Baie Verte Junction to the town is 67 kilometres, and the rough roads make it about an hour’s drive. At a 52 kilometre distance, Foss suspects it would have taken the La Scie ambulance 25-30 minutes to reach the mine site.
Gaitane Villeneuve, director of communications with Central Health, says these telecommunication issues were likely caused by weather-induced problems with cell phone coverage in the area.
“Central Health, as far as I’m aware, are looking into it. If they are using cell phone they are certainly more vulnerable to outside influence than a landline.”
-Health Minister John Haggie
Health and Community Services Minister John Haggie says Central Health is investigating the nature of the telecommunications issue, but he has not yet been informed as to the exact cause of the problem.
“Central Health, as far as I’m aware, are looking into it. If they are using cell phone they are certainly more vulnerable to outside influence than a landline,” said Haggie. “It’s obviously a stressful situation and certainly less than ideal, but until the full circumstances are uncovered it’s difficult to recommend any remedies."
In an emailed response from Lynn Hammond, vice-president of public relations with Anaconda Mining, the company confirmed that there was at an injury incident at their Baie Verte site, and once the person was transported to the hospital, the injuries were determined to be minor. The email states that the company will be conducting a review regarding the incident.
Shared ambulance model
Under the current shared ambulance policy between the Baie Verte Peninsula Health Centre and Green Bay Health Centre in Springdale, when the Green Bay ambulance staff is on a required resting period, the two Baie Verte ambulance staff are stationed at a “middle ground” location of Baie Verte Junction, located between the towns of Baie Verte and Springdale.
According to Foss, this shared ambulance model has been in place for Baie Verte and Springdale since 2013.
“This shared service was initiated to increase Central Health’s capacity to respond to emergency transfers,” Foss said. “The previous model allowed for only one ambulance in Springdale and one in Baie Verte. An ambulance does need to be stationed at the Junction at certain times to increase our ability to respond."
However, because the only two persons on staff for the Baie Verte Peninsula Health Centre’s ambulance service were at the Baie Verte Junction location, the ambulance sitting in the parking lot of the health centre was unstaffed and not available at the time of Anaconda Mining incident.
As previously reported in The Nor’wester, Philpott and the town have been fighting for over two years to have a stronger ambulance presence in the area. With this most recent incident at the Anaconda Mining site, Philpott says the town’s long-standing issues with ambulance services have reached a “boiling point."
“You need two staff in the ambulance in order to dispatch. Springdale is supposed to have three paramedic staff and we are supposed to have three,” said Philpott. “We lack that third staff person. They’ve got one position posted but it’s an on-call position they can’t get anyone to take.
“An hour response time is the minimum wait for us now, and we’ve got the industrial mines here. We’ve been fighting this for a while and this will be the boiling point. I think the government officials are going to listen now.”
-Baie Verte Mayor Brandon Philpott
“No one’s going to want to move to a remote area like Baie Verte for an on-call position."
Philpott hopes this job will be reposted as a full-time position to increase the likelihood of it being filled. He says for such a large coverage area across the Baie Verte Peninsula, the current ambulance staff and policy is not suitable.
“An hour response time is the minimum wait for us now, and we’ve got the industrial mines here,” he said. “We’ve been fighting this for a while and this will be the boiling point. I think the government officials are going to listen now."
Foss did not say specifically if any changes in the current ambulance model for the area will result from this incident, but she says there will be additional consultations with the communities and provincial government because of it.
“As with any situation that arises with our services, we always reach out and engage in conversations,” she said. “There’s always opportunities to improve and we will look at how we can improve on this service and how our community partners can work with us.”
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