I have personally witnessed events that have greatly hindered many patients’ care and have possibly caused others to lose their lives.
Firstly, many of the private ambulance services in this area are run out of a funeral home. Conflict of interest? It would seem that way, as the company would stand to make a profit whether a patient lives or dies. I've spoken with families who have been mortified to witness a hearse appear at the scene of a loved one's emergency before the patient has even passed away.
Oftentimes, emergency personnel who are dispatched to the scene of an emergency battle exhaustion, as they have been on the clock for 24 hours straight or longer. According to the labour board, employees are entitled to an eight-hour break every 24 hours. Those employed in the emergency field are somehow exempt. Wouldn't it make sense to ensure that those engaged in such high-stress situations are well rested in order to properly perform their job?
I've witnessed ambulances dispatched to calls without oxygen tanks, stair chairs and reliable diagnostic equipment. Some private services cannot justify spending the money in order to maintain sterile equipment. A colleague of mine recounted a story in which the employer mandated that the oxygen masks be washed and reused after they had come in contact with bodily fluids. Some services do not have stretchers for overweight patients, but instead rely on stretchers not designed to hold them. This increases the risk of injury to both the EMS worker and patient.
Some EMS workers will find themselves forced to dispatch calls, a practice which likely falls outside of their realm of experience. In one such instance, while trying to send an emergency crew to the scene of a seriously injured patient, the untrained dispatcher accidentally gave them the wrong address. This delay resulted in the patient succumbing to his injuries. On top of this, dispatchers are only required to complete the most basic of duties. For example, when an emergency call is made dispatchers rarely collect more than the location and the reason for the call. This is a wasted opportunity to improve patient care as dispatchers can help console the person while guiding them through basic First Aid and CPR practices.
If backup is needed while you are on scene, a paramedic may be unable to get it. Private services are not paid to send additional ambulances to help even though several neighbouring services may be available. In order to cut costs, large areas are regularly serviced by one ambulance. If two emergencies were to happen at once there would be inadequate ambulances available to respond to them.
Services compete for calls, as they are paid on a per call basis. This means that if a call is made to the service farthest away from where the emergency is taking place, then that service will respond to the emergency instead of appropriately redirecting the call to the closest service.
The move towards a government-run EMS field would greatly improve patient care and response time in the province and set Newfoundland on par with the other provinces.
Crystal Sparkes is a native of Toronto, Ont., but is currently residing in Bay Roberts. She is a paramedic working in Conception Bay North and plans to move back to Ontario in 2013.