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Shared EMS raises concerns about response times

Posted on November 4, 2013 by Maple Creek

When dealing with a medical emergency, every minute counts.

That’s why some residents are concerned about the increased time it takes Maple Creek emergency medical services to respond to a situation when the service is being shared with other communities.

The practice in question is an arrangement Maple Creek has with Leader, in which responders from either town drive to Fox Valley and wait to cover any medical emergencies should they arise in either place when responders at one location are dealing with another emergency.

Maple Creek has two ambulances staffed during the day – one which completes patient transfers from Leader or Maple Creek to other health facilities and another which responds to calls. Leader has one unit on call. When emergencies reduce the number of units available from three to one, that team travels to Fox Valley – the halfway point between both communities – for a response time of 30 minutes or less to either location.

The concern lies in the added response time the practice creates rather than having additional staff in both locations.

But according to Greg Dunn, Cypress Health Region’s director of EMS, the practice is the best option for the region, as staffing and finances play a big role in the amount of resources available.

“You can’t tell when an ambulance call is coming. You have those days where you get all your calls and then you have the days where you have none,” he explained. “It’s tricky. I could staff five trucks and still at certain times have no trucks available.”

He said it’s easy for communities to help each other out because it is a regional service.

“The advantage of having regional services is that we’re able to move our vehicles around,” he said. “I know there’s concerns from the community, but we help each other out, and we need to.”

In Maple Creek, one responder is at the hospital during the day and in the evening. When a call comes in, their partner must be at the EMS base in 10 minutes or less to respond. When both individuals are waiting with a unit in Fox Valley, this eliminates that 10-minute wait time but adds about 30 minutes. EMS here respond to about 450 calls a year, amounting to an average of 1.2 calls a day. Dunn said Leader has a little less than that.

“When we’re over-tasked and are sitting in Fox Valley trying to cover both communities, it has paid off in the past to have those folks there,” he stated.

Maple Creek and Leader aren’t the only places in the region that use this practice. Shaunavon and Eastend EMS have the same agreement, and Consul responders have moved to assist in covering Maple Creek at times. Richmound staff have also occasionally driven to Fox Valley when both Maple Creek and Leader have been on calls.

Some communities are unable to share services in this way as staff are only part-time and are on call while working other jobs.

 

“A lot of our folks are on call, so their employer lets them respond to emergencies, but then come back to work,” Dunn said.  The region has 12 emergency services – seven run by the Cypress Health Region itself and five run by private operators. These private operators assist on a contract basis in communities such as Gull Lake and Swift Current.

In addition to this, Dunn said the region is also able to use the services of air ambulances such as STARS when necessary.

First responders can help alleviate the pressure on EMS staff as well. Dunn said this is an angle the region is looking at for some locations. Community members, such as firefighters, would be trained as first responders to provide medical care until EMS arrive. Smaller communities in the Southwest already have this in place, and the health region is currently looking at establishing the program in Cabri.

“The quicker you have someone at their side and can start care plays an important role,” Dunn said.

He noted staffing is always an issue in every area of health care. But unlike when a hospital is put on diversion, EMS staff can be moved to cover more than one community when other responders are unavailable.

“We have the ability to do that and make sure everybody has coverage,” he stated.

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