Despite the need, this region will not be receiving new Emergency Health Services (EHS) vehicles.
Under a one-year pilot project called the Medical Transport Service, the province announced on November 24 that it purchased vans for EHS to provide “non-clinical transportation” between health care facilities. Funding comes from the Canada-Nova Scotia Home and Community Care and Mental Health and Addictions Services Funding Agreement.
The province said freeing up front-line staff from non-emergency tasks will take pressure off the emergency health system and on paramedics.
Health and Wellness Minister Leo Glavine said this will ensure Nova Scotians get the care they need quickly and efficiently, while maximizing EHS resources.
The vehicles will be able to transport several people at a time, the province said, including those requiring wheelchair services. They will be staffed with one EHS employee who will be the operator of the vehicle and in contact with the EHS Medical Communication Centre.
According to the province, EHS currently provides non-clinical, non-emergency transportation between hospitals and health care facilities. This is done by EHS ambulances with two paramedics. As well, EHS provides some transportation from community residences to health care facilities, when there is no viable alternate transportation service.
There are 160 ambulances and approximately 1,200 paramedics in Nova Scotia, and EHS paramedics respond to approximately 175,000 calls every year for emergencies and patient transfers.
And while this is a noteworthy initiative, the air came out of the announcement when it was confirmed that three vans are expected to be in service by February 2021 in Bridgewater, Kentville and the Central Zone.
Currently, paramedics in Halifax participate in the Extended Care Paramedic Program which allows seniors to be treated in their home rather than at an emergency department. Meanwhile, a check-in program called VISIT allows paramedics in the Annapolis Valley to check in on some at-risk seniors identified by local doctors.
Given the existing resources to augment the emergency health care system in those areas, why were they selected for the pilot project over areas like the Strait without any such infrastructure?
The Progressive Conservatives issued a press release the next day asking why no resources were added in the Cape Breton and northern regions and they wanted to know what “specific data” led to this decision?
For its part, the province noted that the Medical Transport Service is a pilot project and will be evaluated throughout the year.
They said those regions were chosen because there is significant pressure on the EHS system on those areas and the extra van would provide the most immediate assistance. Provincial spokesperson Marla MacInnis told The Reporter the project will free up ambulances and paramedics to respond to emergency calls.
Despite the province’s response, it is common knowledge that the emergency health care system in the Strait region requires help.
Among the many accounts and anecdotes from local residents, was one which prompted councillors in the Municipality of the District of Guysborough (MODG) to call for a meeting with EHS.
At their regular monthly meeting on November 18, deputy warden Janet Peitzsche told council about an incident in September when a patient with appendicitis waited seven hours at the Eastern Memorial Hospital in Canso for an ambulance to get transferred to Antigonish. During the wait, their appendix burst resulting in a prolonged recovery time after surgery.
Guysborough Warden Vernon Pitts said the complaint is concerning, and similar to others he’s heard in the past. Pitts said the municipality wants “answers,” pointing to a “disconnect” where responses from the provincial government don’t line up with what they’re hearing on the ground.
Although council previously spoke with EHS and didn’t like what they heard, the warden said, recently council passed a motion requesting EHS officials attend a future meeting to, once again, discuss long-standing services issues in the municipality.
During those previous discussions, Pitts said EHS officials refused to give details, citing patient confidentiality, which was frustrating.
If the situation doesn’t improve, Pitts said the municipality is prepared to take their concerns to the minister of health and wellness, adding that one complaint like this is “one complaint too many.”
And while this area certainly does not have the population of areas like the Halifax Regional Municipality, nor the sheer number of health care facilities to ferry between, the Strait area has vast distances to cover between communities.
When considering the case of a community like Canso, which is far removed from St. Martha’s Regional Hospital, even one extra van would help greatly.
And it’s not just Canso, this region has many communities and residents located far from their neighbours, or the closest health care facility, and with a high segment of the local population over the age of 65, the need is acute.
While those factors won’t bring another EHS vehicle to the region right now, hopefully it will inform future decisions surrounding emergency health care in the Strait area.