Six months after taking over the Happy Valley-Goose Bay ambulance service from a contractor, Labrador-Grenfell Health says things are improving.
"Our times out the door are very, very good," said Antoinette Cabot, director of population health, ambulatory services and emergency services for the health authority.
Data from October 2017 to March 2018 showed that the average response time — the time between when a 911 call is sent to the emergency centre at the Labrador Health Centre and when the ambulance gets on the road — was 3.6 minutes for the 405 calls received.
That's well below the provincial benchmark of 10 minutes, Cabot told CBC's Labrador Morning, and reduced from the 6.2 minutes CBC News reported a year ago.
The data also showed that people in Happy Valley-Goose Bay are still more likely to have long waits for an ambulance, compared to other parts of Labrador.
In the same six-month period, two per cent of the calls in Labrador West, and four per cent of those in North West River and Sheshatshiu, took longer than 30 minutes between the emergency call and the ambulance's arrival.
For Happy Valley-Goose Bay, that number was 15 per cent.
Several factors affect response time
Several factors should be considered when looking at the on-scene times — the time between when an emergency call is received and when paramedics are on the scene providing care — in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, Cabot said.
"With the service in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, that provides ambulance services for all of central Labrador so that's quite a large geographical area," she said.
If the ambulance gets on the road quickly but still takes some time to get to its destination, it may be because it has to travel a fair distance, she said.
Weather conditions are also a factor, being that they can force ambulances to go at slower speeds than they might otherwise. And ambulance drivers must obey the road traffic act and consider the safety of themselves and others on the road, she said.
"We need to ensure that we also keep in mind that we have to keep our paramedics safe, first and foremost, because we want them to get there."
For the October 2017 to March 2018 period, the average on-scene time for Happy Valley-Goose Bay was 14.1 minutes, Cabot said.
Policy changes since contract takeover
Several policy changes are now in place, she added.
The previous operator, Labrador Ambulance Services, didn't require staff to wait by the ambulances. Instead, staff drove to the ambulance site on the far end of town when a call came in.
Ambulance response times were previously tracked manually, she said. Now they are tracked via an electronic system.
Paramedics enter the data from each call into the system when they return to the emergency room, and that information is sent directly to their managers, who can watch for discrepancies or unexplained wait times.
"Any calls in excess of 30 minutes, we will now have real-time information to that manager's fingertips," she said.
As well, there are now two primary ambulances for central Labrador and two paramedics at the Labrador Health Centre around the clock, she said, with a secondary ambulance and two additional paramedics on call.
"We're very happy with how far we've come to date."