By Marcia Love
A local resident wants answers from Cypress Health Region and a better system in place for emergency response after his 82-year-old mother was forced to wait for an ambulance while in medical distress.
Dan Hartley was with his mother Isobel while she was at a hair salon downtown late last month when she began showing signs of a stroke. He immediately called 9-1-1, but the closest available ambulance was located at Fox Valley.
“It was a little over 40 minutes,” he said of the wait. “It was frustrating, having a new health care facility here in town and to have to wait that long.”
He was told to lay his mother on the floor, where she was semi-conscious while they waited for help to arrive.
Because of her condition and other health concerns, Dan did not want to attempt to take his mother to the hospital himself.
While on the phone, Dan said he was told to stay on the line with the 9-1-1 dispatcher.
“After the ambulance people did finally arrive and take her over to the hospital, they told me that they tried calling that establishment where the call was from to let us know what the progress was,” he said. “Well, we couldn’t (be reached) because (dispatch) had us stay on the line.”
Isobel was in the hospital for a day while she recovered.
Now Dan wants to see improvements made so situations like these don’t happen with a worse outcome.
“If they’re going to commit multi-million dollars to build hospitals in Swift Current, Maple Creek and Leader in the Cypress region, then there should be an equal amount of commitment… to make sure that we have a staffed paramedic system that is functional to service the community, and to have the nurses and doctors in the multi-million dollar facilities on-hand,” he stated.
According to Cypress Health Region, on the day in question Maple Creek EMS was already out on a call. Because no on-call staff were available to provide service with the second ambulance in town, Leader EMS relocated to Fox Valley to provide coverage for both communities — a practice that is occasionally done in such situations and reciprocated by Maple Creek EMS.
When the call came in, the Leader ambulance crew responded from Fox Valley. It took them 38 minutes to arrive on scene, said Liz Rackow, Cypress Health Region’s director of EMS.
“I understand for that particular family, when it’s your loved one, every minute seems like an eternity. But they did a fantastic job of getting there as quickly as they possibly could,” she stated.
The health region reported it has a full staff of EMS in Maple Creek, but is continually advertising to hire additional emergency medical responders to ensure there are extra staff available for the second ambulance.
Currently, Maple Creek has one full-time emergency medical technician and four part-time EMS staff. The health region stated one ambulance is fully staffed for 16 hours of paid coverage during the day. One staff members is at the health facility, while their partner is on call. The remaining eight hours of coverage is done through on-call staff.
When the first ambulance is called out, other EMS staff are contacted in an attempt to provide service with the second ambulance if needed.
“We try to get as many casual EMRs on staff as possible in each of our sites so that if that first car goes out, we want to have staff available who can go on-call to work with that second car,” Rackow said. “Our EMRs are all casual, so a number of them have day-time jobs, so we want to get that base up as much as possible. So we will continue to post for casual EMR in almost all of our sites.”
But the need is not high enough to have two ambulances fully staffed 24 hours a day, the health region said.
“The number of times that the first truck is out and that a second truck gets called out on an emergency while the first one is out is minimal,” stated Bryce Martin, communications director for Cypress Health Region. “So we have to be utilizing the dollars that are available for EMS services to match the demand and the utilization of the service. So to have two trucks permanently staffed 24 hours a day, based upon the number of calls that they get at the same time right now is not available in the budget.”
Because of this, Martin said it is necessary for neighbouring communities with EMS services to work together. Smaller services in Richmound and Consul have also situated themselves closer to Maple Creek to assist at times as well.
In addition to local EMS, the health region is also working with rural communities to establish first responders. The program, which was introduced in March through grants, involves volunteers in various communities receiving training to respond to an emergency and provide care until EMS arrive.
“If we have an individual who lives on a farm or a ranch who is one of our first responders and lives one mile away from the site where a 9-1-1 call is being made, that first responder has the ability and the equipment to go and be at the site of the patient until the ambulance arrives,” Martin explained.
First responder programs have been in Hazlet and Burstall for a number of years, he said. The health region has been in contact with municipalities in the area, including Maple Creek, but said it hasn’t received a response yet.
Hartley believes the province’s health care — especially rural health care — is far behind the times.
“I spent many years living in Alberta before moving back to Saskatchewan… in 1996, and in the time period that I spent in Alberta, I just found that their health system was so much more efficiently run than ours,” he said. “Here I am, 20 years later in Saskatchewan, and we’re still playing catch-up to their health system. That’s frustrating.”