Trepassey, already dealing with medics strike, could lose its only ambulance in 6 months

The town of Trepassey could lose its only ambulance in the next six months.  (Jeremy Eaton/CBC - image credit)
The town of Trepassey could lose its only ambulance in the next six months. (Jeremy Eaton/CBC - image credit)
Jeremy Eaton/CBC
Jeremy Eaton/CBC

Trepassey Mayor Rita Pennell says she's been told the town's only ambulance will be removed from service in six months.

Pennell said Bob Fewer — owner of seven private ambulance services at the centre of a strike in Newfoundland — informed the town last week that he'd given notice to the provincial government notice to withdraw the ambulance in 180 days.

"He also said it had nothing to do with the strike, but the people of Trepassey are thinking that's a part of it, too," Pennell said Monday.

More than 100 striking ambulance workers will be returning to work after the province passed Bill 24 on Monday night, which makes private ambulances an essential service. That means future disputes will go to the Labour Board, and can be settled through arbitration.

If the Trepassey decision has nothing to do with the strike, Pennell is puzzled by the reasoning.

"He said that he was only averaging about three trips a week and that wasn't enough, really. But I can't see that because since Christmas the ambulance was gone every day, and when the ambulance was gone we were in red alert. So [in] any emergencies we had other ambulances coming in from other places."

Fewer has not responded to calls from CBC News.

No doctor, no ambulance

Pennell said ambulance runs to and from St. John's are four-hour round trips, not including times when emergency rooms are jammed, which can leave ambulances waiting hours to offload patients.

Trepassey's ambulance is also often called to other areas of the Southern Shore.

"They were gone nearly every day, and they were gone for six, seven and eight hours," she said.

"I really think it makes seniors sick, because they're worried and worried, afraid something is going to happen while the ambulance is gone. Plus now, with the strike, it's a great worry when you're older to know you have no service. There's no doctor here. That's another story."

Ryan Cooke/CBC
Ryan Cooke/CBC

A nurse practitioner serves Trepassey two days a week, for four to five hours a day, said Pennell. The wait time is about two weeks, she added.

Hubert Dawe, business agent for Teamsters Local 855 — which represents the striking ambulance workers — told CBC News that Fewer said it's not a profitable service for him. Dawe said all his expenses are covered under the ambulance service agreement.

"He might not be making the hundreds of thousands of dollars that he's making on the other ambulance services, but he's not losing money," Dawe said Monday.

"And I don't know if it's a fear tactic to try to pressure the government to come up with more money to keep that ambulance service down there or what his long-term game plan is, but to tell the people of Trepassey that it's just not profitable for him and that's why he's pulling out is a slap in the face to the whole province in rural Newfoundland and Labrador."

During an emergency sitting of the House of Assembly on Monday, Ferryland MHA Loyola O'Driscoll pushed Health Minister Tom Osborne on Trepassey's ambulance concerns.

O'Driscoll said he has presented numerous petitions, signed by residents of Trepassey, to the provincial government about the lack of ambulances in the past.

He asked Osborne how services will improve for Trepassey if legislation to end the private ambulance strike passed on Monday.

Osborne said the Health Department and regional health authority are looking at the issue "very closely."

"That is something that is actively being worked on in the midst of the labour situation that is currently unfolding."

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