Mapping error forced ambulance into long detour around closed bridge, MLA says

An ambulance crew's GPS map showed the Pineville Bridge was open, so the paramedics took the route recommended by the system, forcing it to reroute while responding to a call. (Radio-Canada/Guy R. LeBlanc - image credit)
An ambulance crew's GPS map showed the Pineville Bridge was open, so the paramedics took the route recommended by the system, forcing it to reroute while responding to a call. (Radio-Canada/Guy R. LeBlanc - image credit)

An ambulance crew responding to a call in the Miramichi area was given faulty information by its digital mapping service and had to reroute around a closed bridge, according to a local MLA.

Mike Dawson said at a legislative committee meeting Thursday that the GPS map showed the Pineville Bridge was open, so the paramedics took the route recommended by the system.

"When it travelled to the area, they went right to the end of where a bridge was closed. It has been closed for two years. Then they had to make a detour, back around, for 35 minutes," he said.

The 38-year-old patient was having a stroke, said Dawson, the Progressive Conservative MLA for Southwest Miramichi-Bay du Vin.

"When a person takes a stroke, time is of the essence to get them the medication they need to try to stop paralysis."

Jacques Poitras/CBC
Jacques Poitras/CBC

Dawson put the incident to Eric Beaulieu, the deputy minister at the department of health, who fielded questions from MLAs on the committee for most of Thursday.

Beaulieu had told the committee earlier that the GPS and mapping systems "have been tested and are working."

Dawson asked him how to reconcile that with what happened to his constituent.

"What's the reasoning for the paramedics to say that the GPS sent them the wrong way?" he asked Beaulieu.

"We'll go back to Ambulance New Brunswick and follow up," Beaulieu responded.

"Our understanding is the GPS locator is working well but there may be issues with the mapping, so we'll follow up with Ambulance New Brunswick on that."

Submitted by Darlene Gillespie
Submitted by Darlene Gillespie

Dawson told CBC News the patient was "very lucky" and is not paralyzed but needs physiotherapy to get their strength back on the left side of their body.

"The concern here today is that GPS systems weren't aligned to current road and bridge closures," he said.

The Pineville Bridge, which crosses the Renous River, was deemed unsafe and closed by the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure in December 2021.

That means an ambulance coming from Blackville to a call on the north side of the river can no longer cut through the woods on Lockstead Road and cross the bridge.

Instead, it has to follow Route 8 to Renous and then backtrack on Route 108, a longer route.

On Feb. 20, however, the mapping system showed the bridge was open and told the crew it could take the shorter route.

Local residents warned of precisely that scenario last spring when the bridge's closure became an issue in the provincial by-election that Dawson won.

Jacques Poitras/CBC
Jacques Poitras/CBC

People living in Pineville hoped that Premier Blaine Higgs would promise during the campaign to repair and open the bridge. The government finally announced in August it would fix the bridge. It will spend $580,000 this year to upgrade the structure so drivers can use it again.

Ambulance New Brunswick spokesperson Christianna Williston said in an email that the organization's mapping system adapts to road and bridge closures but "also relies on accurate updates on a continuous basis."

She said ANB monitors public road closure information, including the province's 511 service, and updates the mapping system accordingly.

"However, there are instances when despite best efforts, such closures may affect our response times," she said.

"We take instances like this very seriously and any follow-up actions are applied as quickly as possible."

Additional health-care questions

Dawson wasn't the only MLA to raise constituent concerns about health care with Beaulieu.

Memramcook-Tantramar Green MLA Megan Mitton said she has been trying to help a constituent get access to addiction services, without much luck.

"They have really struggled to get into detox. The wait lists for rehab make it seem out of reach," she said.

"I"m very concerned, because people can lose their lives because of this."

Beaulieu told her the province had 88 detox beds but didn't give Mitton specifics when she asked for a plan to improve the system.

"In terms of the overall capacity of our rehab system, that is something the department is looking at: where we should make the investments and what is required going forward?" he said.

Other PC MLAs on the committee recounted their own positive personal experiences with the health-care system.

Fredericton-York member Ryan Cullins said his family used both the 811 Tele-Care and eVisit systems to care for their young child and both worked well.

And Gagetown-Petitcodiac MLA Ross Wetmore said his wife recently got quick and effective care for a heart issue at the Dr. Everett Chalmers Regional Hospital emergency department in Fredericton.