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Bonavista Ambulance Committee concerned with lack of government response to concerns

The Bonavista Ambulance Committee. Front, from left, Beverly Dyke and Coun. Reg Butler; and back, Marilyn Randell, Bernice Clements and Lisa Mouland. Missing is Coun. Calvin Rolls.
The Bonavista Ambulance Committee. Front, from left, Beverly Dyke and Coun. Reg Butler; and back, Marilyn Randell, Bernice Clements and Lisa Mouland. Missing is Coun. Calvin Rolls. - SaltWire File Photo

Group says letter to Department of Health went unanswered

BONAVISTA, N.L. —

Fourteen minutes.

That’s how long it took for an ambulance to reach Wayne Randell.

His wife Marilyn Randell and sister-in-law Lisa Mouland can’t hold back the tears as they recall that horrible day in May, 2012, when Wayne suffered a heart attack.

The 55-year-old was working for Ocean Choice International (OCI), the fish processing plant in the town, and was working on the company’s wharf on the Bonavista waterfront.

Wayne began feeling unwell.

An ambulance was called.

However, according to the Bonavista Ambulance Committee — a group formed to advocate for better ambulance service in the town — the paramedic assigned to the ambulance that day had to pick up their partner before responding.

That meant a drive to the other end of Bonavista, passing by the wharf where Wayne Randell was in an emergency situation. Fourteen minutes later, the ambulance arrived at the OCI wharf.

But it was too late.

Wayne Randell was dead.

The case of Wayne Randell is one of the examples highlighted in a letter from the committee to the province’s Department of Health and Community Services on March 26, 2018, advocating for better service.

In an interview with The Packet, the committee says it sent the letter through its MHA Neil King, and it took the health department over six months to reply.

According to the committee, the department didn’t even confirm it had received the letter until October. And the committee has not had the chance to have any “meaningful discussion” with government since then regarding their concerns.

“Isn’t life valuable enough even to warrant an answer back?” wonders committee member Beverley Dyke.

“It doesn’t feel like it’s important enough to government,” added Mouland.

“We wanted Minister (Paul) Haggie to be able to read that letter before the overview of the ambulance services were done so they could see why we started this committee and how it’s affected people here.”

The committee says their concerns are not with the ambulance provider — Fewer’s Ambulance Service — or paramedics and employees who they call “second to none.”

It’s about the province adopting regulations to improve ambulance response times.

Coun. Reg Butler feels government has spent too much time “beating around the bush.

“We’ve been at this for six years and you can’t say, ‘What’s it going to take, someone to die or something?’ because it’s already happened,” said Butler.

In their letter to the health department, the committee made several recommendations for Bonavista ambulance service.

One of them was to build an ambulance depot to park the ambulances. That way, they suggested, paramedics would be able to converge at a common point, instead of one having to pick up the other partner during an emergency response. A building would also allow the vehicles to be stored inside, saving time it would take to get them started and warmed up in winter weather.

The private ambulance operator has cleared an area off Confederation Drive in Bonavista for the depot, but nothing has been built.

Dyke says she doesn’t think there’s enough incentive for ambulance operators to build depots in different communities, even in Bonavista, which is the largest community at the tip of the Bonavista Peninsula.

A representative from the Department of Health and Community services told The Packet the province is continuing to review options for future ambulance procurement past March 2020.

“This process is exploring how best to minimize response times across the province and improve the overall ambulance system,” reads the statement provided by e-mail. “In addition, new Emergency Health Services legislation was passed in the fall of 2018. This legislation provides government with improved ability to monitor and enforce response times.”

When asked about giving operators incentives to build structures in the communities they serve, the department official said operators are not required to have ambulance bases in every community they service and government does not build these structures for private operators. However, operators are eligible to receive a grant of $280 per month ($3,360 annually) for each garage bay in an existing ambulance base.

Marilyn Randell, who was one of the founders of the committee to push for change after her husband’s death, says it has been a frustrating process for the group of advocates for better ambulance service.

The reason she carries on, however, is simple.

“I can’t bring Wayne back but if I can help somebody to not go through what I went through…” 

The committee plans to hold community meetings in the near future to gather input from other residents and to update the public on what this group has done in the year since it was created.

The Packet made multiple attempts to contact Fewer’s Ambulance Service owner Robert Fewer, but he could not be reached for comment.

RELATED:

Bonavista Ambulance Committee works towards better service

Jonathan.parsons@thepacket.ca

Twitter: @jejparsons

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