It’s been eight months since Ambulance NB stopped dispatching emergency medical calls to the Memramcook and Dorchester fire departments, as well as another ten departments across the province. Last week, officials from the New Brunswick Department of Health and Ambulance New Brunswick met with local mayors and representatives from the province’s municipal associations to discuss the issue, and the delay in solving it.
“The folks on the call were fairly optimistic that they were going to find a solution,” says Bourgeois, and one that could be in place by October, and apply across the province. “They want all the fire departments to have that opportunity to be able to be called and dispatched,” says Bourgeois.
“In our communities, as you know, if something does happen, it can take up to 45 minutes before a paramedic arrives on the scene,” says Bourgeois. Local fire departments, on the other hand, are typically under 10 minutes away. “So it’s the fire department calls that can definitely make the difference between life and death in certain situations,” says Bourgeois.
The decision to end medical first responder dispatching appears to be a resource issue. In March, Ambulance NB spokesperson Christianna Williston told CHMA that the “improvised solution” by which a dozen departments received calls was determined to be “no longer sustainable.” Williston pointed out that different departments had different capabilities for calls, and also that it is still ANB policy to call on fire departments in a small number of cases, such as when there is a delayed response expected, when there is a high acuity or ECHO level call, and when ANB staff will need help with lift assists.
Bourgeois says he doesn’t quite understand why the current practice would take less dispatcher time than the previous scenario. “If you have somebody that does go through the process of analyzing the situation, assessing the distance, the time the department is going to be going to take to get on the scene… So you have somebody going through all those steps, but doesn’t have the time to call the fire department. For me, it is a bit strange,” says Bourgeois. “I’m still not understanding exactly why we’re in this situation.”
Williston said in March that a technological upgrade is what triggered the switch in protocol back on January 9, 2023. Bourgeois finds it hard to believe that the upgrade could have reduced the organization’s capabilities for dispatch. “If you’re adopting a new system in the 21st century, you’re not going back, you’re going forward,” says Bourgeois. “You should have more ability to do more with your system, not less.”
Bourgeois is hopeful that a solution will come about in the next month or two, but also says the issue will stay on his radar. “I want to make sure that we keep putting pressure and that they’re constantly reminded that this is a priority for us and the other communities within New Brunswick.”
Tantramar Mayor Andrew Black was involved in planning last week’s meeting along with Bourgeois and Riverview Mayor Andrew LeBlanc, but Black was unable to attend.
Memramcook-Tantramar MLA Megan Mitton brought up the issue on Tuesday during the Legislature’s Public Accounts Committee session with the Department of Health. Deputy Minister of Health Eric Beaulieu did not indicate that a solution was forthcoming, and recommended Mitton ask Ambulance NB about the issue when they come before the Public Accounts Committee on Wednesday afternoon.
Erica Butler, CHMA, Local Journalism Initiative.