Fired ambulance provider sues N.L. Health Department, regional health authority

·3 min read
Wade Smith, seen here in a file photo, owns Smith's Ambulance Service, a private ambulance operator. (Mark Cumby/CBC - image credit)
Wade Smith, seen here in a file photo, owns Smith's Ambulance Service, a private ambulance operator. (Mark Cumby/CBC - image credit)
Mark Cumby/CBC
Mark Cumby/CBC

An ambulance service that had its contract for services in the Whitbourne area terminated abruptly earlier this month has filed a lawsuit against the provincial Department of Health and the area's regional health authority.

In a statement of claim filed last week in the Supreme Court of Newfoundland and Labrador, Smith's Ambulance Service says it was terminated without notice on March 2 and dispute resolution procedures outlined in the ambulance service agreement were not followed.

The company has been providing ambulance service to the Whitbourne region since 1996 and signed its most recent agreement with the provincial government and Eastern Health in January.

Some Smith's Ambulance employees told CBC News they found out their employer's contract was severed, leaving them without jobs, through an Eastern Health press release posted to Facebook on the evening of March 2.

In documents filed in court, Smith's said Eastern Health sent the company a letter in mid-June that alleged the company had breached its ambulance service agreement on June 1.

Smith's said the letter didn't comply with their contract or allow them to review the situation and respond before action was taken. The company also alleges Eastern Health didn't notify it of the potential breach of contract within three days of becoming aware of it, as its contract requires.

Heather Gillis/CBC
Heather Gillis/CBC

The statement of claim also said the company worked with Eastern Health to resolve issues but was still concerned about the breach of contract allegations and asked the Health Department to review the health authority's findings. Smith's says the review was not complete when it was terminated.

Eastern Health said that there were two more incidents last month in which Smith's didn't fulfil its contractual obligations, but the company disputes the claims and says the situation wasn't reviewed or resolved through the dispute resolution process in its contract.

Smith's says it has not breached its contract and is being wrongfully terminated. The company is accusing Eastern Health and the health department of acting in bad faith.

In a statement issued in the days following the contract discontinuation, Eastern Health said it had "lost all confidence in the operator's ability to provide ambulance services to residents in Whitbourne and surrounding areas. We have no plans for reinstatement of the agreement."

The company is seeking immediate reinstatement of its services, unspecified damages and reimbursement of legal costs..

Eastern Health, which has been using some of its own ambulances and another private ambulance operator nearby to serve the area since cancelling the Smith's contract, has said there would be no change to service levels for area residents.

In Thursday's budget, the provincial government announced $9 million to begin consolidating 60 private and community ambulance services into a "single, integrated service" with centralized dispatch, as recommended in the Health Accord, a provincial report with recommendations for revamping N.L.'s health-care system.

Eastern Health and the Health Department both declined to comment Tuesday, citing the ongoing legal matters.

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