Smith's Ambulance Services employees discover they lost their jobs from a Facebook post
Janelle Evans says she spent Thursday evening preparing for her next shift as a primary-care paramedic with Smith's Ambulance Services, her employer for almost two years.
That was until she logged into Facebook and discovered she no longer had the job.
Eastern Health announced Thursday evening that Smith's Ambulance Services would no longer be providing ambulance services to the Whitbourne area.
Evans says she was made aware that Eastern Health had abruptly cut her employer's contract only through social media posts.
"I guess it would've just been nice to find out that I had no job on any other term other than by Facebook," said Evans. "I mean, we still want to be here and we still want to work in Whitbourne and provide the care and the service to these communities and these people that we know."
The health authority said in a press release Thursday that routine and emergency ambulance service to the region will continue and that there will be no change to service levels.
The emergency room in the community has been closed continuously for months because of a lack of staff, and Whitbourne residents have been protesting the ongoing closure.
The town's mayor, Hilda Whelan, says the change in ambulance service providers isn't welcome news for the community.
"We've been serviced by Smith's Ambulance a long time and we've had good service," said Whelan. "Losing them is not good for anybody, for him, for us, or for the employees."
Kenneth Baird, president and interim CEO of Eastern Health, said the health authority changed service providers because of concerns with the former operator's ability to "meet its obligations under the ambulance services contract."
Baird said he couldn't elaborate on specific concerns but he said Eastern Health was directed to replace the operator in the area by the Department of Health and Community Services.
In an emailed statement to CBC News, the Department of Health said, "Due to legal considerations, we are not in a position to provide comment at this time."
In June, Eastern Health accused the private ambulance service of breaching its contract by not responding to a mutual aid call. The company's owner, Wade Smith, isn't currently speaking publicly but he denies the accusation.
Baird said it was Smith's responsibility to tell employees about the change, but acknowledged the operator was given a limited time to do so.
"Time to notify their employees was short," said Baird on Friday. "But that is a process that Smith's would need to speak to."
Urgent care centre
There are two ambulances at the town's William H. Newhook Health Centre. On Friday, one ambulance from Eastern Health and one from the Heart's Delight area were stationed outside the Whitbourne health centre.
Baird says it's a temporary solution, adding the government and the health authority are discussing permanent resolutions. It remains unclear whether Smith's Ambulance Services will be reinstated as the ER's service provider.
"Eastern Health is providing the resource. It does mean there's a little bit of added pressure to the resources available within our capacity," said Baird. "But we do have sufficient resources to meet this demand on a short-term basis."
While Whelan says the town is grateful that ambulance services aren't being affected by the change, she is concerned for the future of Whitbourne's emergency services.
She says there have been discussions with Eastern Health about restoring emergency services, but not on a 24/7 basis. She says there's a possibility the Newhook centre could become an urgent-care centre that would operate for eight to 12 hours a day.
Although having an urgent-care centre is a good idea, she says, it's not what the town wants or needs. It's essential the town has 24/7 emergency service, regardless of whether an urgent-care clinic is provided, and she says she's told Eastern Health that.
"I've told them bluntly that no, we won't accept no less than 24-hour care," said Whelan. "I've fought many battles and I've lost none, and I don't plan on losing this one."
There have been discussions with the community about different emergency care models, said Baird, and Eastern Health continues its effort to recruit staff to provide 24-hour emergency services to the town. He said he expects announcements will be made by the government in "due course."
In a press release Friday, Eastern Health said emergency services at the Newhook centre will be temporarily closed due to "human resources challenges" from Mar 6 to 13. The health authority says anyone with a serious medical problem should go to the nearest emergency department in Carbonear, Placentia or St. John's.
It's been eight months of ongoing closures, which Andrew Pretty of Dildo says is nothing short of a disaster.
"I wouldn't call it a health-care crisis. I would call it a health-care disaster," said Pretty. "I'm hearing horror stories about emergency departments being overflowing and people taking hours and hours and hours to be seen for stuff as serious as strokes."
Elaine Thorne of Markland says the abrupt change in ambulance services and ER closures is causing stress for many people.
"It's absolutely ridiculous to let us suffer and not have the health care that we need and should have," said Thorne. "We are a huge area that need urgent care. It's frustrating and it's scary."