Imagine you’re relaxing at home and the unthinkable happens. Someone is seriously injured, or has a life-threatening seizure.
You call for an ambulance, and the dispatcher says help is on the way.
But is it?
According to Jerry Earle, members of the public are not told if there might be a delay, because authorities don’t want people to know the ambulances might be tied up.
Earle, president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Association of Public and Private Employees (NAPE), said Thursday, Sept. 9, a recent memo sent to paramedics advised them not to use the term “red alert” — no ambulance available — because the public or the media might be listening in.
“All they can answer with is, ‘Help is on the way.’ They can’t say there is no help on the way for 40 minutes, because they’re not allowed,” Earle told reporters at a news conference in St. John’s.
He said one of the main causes of red alerts is offload delays at hospitals, where paramedics have to stay with their patients in overcrowded emergency rooms.
“Can you imagine standing in there with your radio and you’re hearing that there’s a child in distress somewhere and you can’t respond because you’re standing in a corridor because of offload delays?” he said.
“They are happening pretty well daily.”
About 40 off-shift paramedics attended Thursday’s event and sat in the back of the room. When a reporter asked how many of them had experienced at least one red alert in the past month, every one raised a hand.
Earle said paramedics are not permitted to talk about their experiences, but he recounted an incident where a man ran his hand through a table saw and called for an ambulance.
“He was not told there was a red alert, and his wife got home before an ambulance could get there and actually transfer him to hospital,” he said.
Earle said the union has pleaded, begged, implored the government and Eastern Health for months to take action.
“We have held demos, we’ve put out press releases, we have done countless interviews, but here we are again today to say that the situation is not improving. In fact, it is steadily getting worse.”
Now, he said, they’re demanding action.
“This is not just a St. John’s issue. This is an issue in multiple areas across our province.”
Earle produced a list of demands he expects to be acted on in the coming weeks or months:
• Implement the recommendations of a 2015 report.
• Increase staffing levels, as well as appropriate equipment and resources, to meet or exceed the national standard.
• Immediately work with frontline paramedics to reduce offload delays at hospitals.
• Increase mental-health supports, including but not limited to critical incident debriefing and peer-to-peer support training.
• Make public, across all health authorites, the baseline stats of data on red alerts, response times and chute times. (Chute time is the time from when an ambulance is dispatched to when it actually starts travelling to a call.)
• Arrange a meeting between the minister of Health and paramedics to discuss the issues and find resolutions.
Earle would not, however, hint at what consequences would result from inaction on the demands.
“We are not talking about sitting by for months before we take further actions,” he said, adding that those measures “will be on full display in the coming weeks and months if this government and the minister do not respond appropriately.”
Health Minister Dr. John Haggie was in transit to his district Thursday afternoon, but the department issued a statement on his behalf.
“The minister is open to meeting with NAPE and Mr. Earle as requested,” it said. “We have to work together to address these issues and find solutions to build on our efforts in paramedicine to date.”
Peter Jackson, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Telegram