Garth McIntyre celebrated his 71st birthday in a rather unusual way this year, responding to a call with the Glenboro ambulance service.
Now, the 15-year veteran of the service is retiring and as McIntyre goes, so too does ambulance service in Glenboro.
“It wouldn’t be bad if we had more people so you were only covering two or three days a week, but the last few months it’s been five days a week steady and it’s hard to have another life,” McIntyre said.
When he first started with the service there were close to 15 casual attendants in Glenboro. McIntyre estimated he worked anywhere from two to 10 shifts a month and could always find someone to cover for him if something urgent came up. Today, the Glenboro service relies on four casual attendants to provide the service, meaning, at times, McIntyre has been married to his pager.
“Most people that get into it are committed and you feel guilty about going away and leaving the community with no service,” McIntyre said.
“So you end up giving up things. I don’t like to go golfing because I’m afraid we are going to get a call and I’m going to be away from the station.”
The lack of employees, who are paid $3-5 per hour when they are on-call plus and additional $13-15 per hour if they are called into service, means that Glenboro will effectively be left without ambulance service for the most part as of Aug. 1.
Residents in the community will now rely on Carberry and Treherne, which have full-time permanent services, or Wawanesa and Baldur, which have casual service, in case of an emergency.
“With Glenboro service missing it creates a big hole,” McIntyre said, adding that at times in the past Glenboro had to assist to calls in different communities in the area when the ambulance was already away on a call or day trip.
Town council will meet with the Western Regional Health Authority (WRHA) in August and councillor Jesse Janz said that ambulance service will be at the top of the agenda.
“Not having ambulance service will be one of the major concerns that we voice to the board,” said Janz, who worked for three years as a member of the ambulance service in Glenboro. “Everyone should be entitled to reasonably quick ambulance service and it’s a big loss for the community.”
The biggest problem the service faces is finding people to make the commitment to the service, Janz said, a sentiment that was echoed by the WRHA’s Emergency Medical Services manager Louise Stitt.
“The service isn’t going to end,” Stitt said, adding that Glenboro has gone without service in the past. “They have some staff there, but very few. We’re going to try to match them up with other individuals from other stations in order to have an ambulance staff.
“We offer the training and we’re going to continue to offer that in the hopes that someone will step up to the plate and are willing to take it on.”
Another problem the service faces in many rural communities is based on simple economics, according to Stitt.
“We are competing against the oil rigs for the people and these young people can get a job on the rigs with the same training and make a fair bit of money,” Stitt said. “It’s also tough dealing with the movement of our young people to the city. We hire people out of Winnipeg and they start and get some experience and then they move to the city.”
At this point, Stitt said the WRHA is committed to service in Glenboro.
“We have full intention of working with the community to ensure they have service,” Stitt said.
But all of this comes during a time when there is a provincial review of the EMS system’s design and staffing models, something that could play a role in how services are deliverered once the review is completed and its recommendations released.
“The review may support us or challenge us further, and we are holding the existing services until we get direction to do otherwise,” Stitt said. “Glenboro is very central in the area and it’s hard to say, but geographics could very well play into their hands in the future, who knows.”
As for McIntyre, one aspect he would like to see changed following the review is that the stringent requirements be lessened for rural jurisdictions compared to their urban counterparts.
When he first started, McIntyre said the Glenboro service was allowed to have one first-responder and one basic first-aider, who drove the ambulance. That has since changed to require two first-responders in the vehicle.
“There are so many rules and regulations that apply to the city, but it really is a different ball game in the country,” McIntyre said. “It’s nice to suggest that everyone has parity in regards to qualifications, but in reality they have a large population in a small area and we’ve got a small population spread over a huge area, but a cardiac is a cardiac and time is important. When you’re travelling 30 or 40 minutes to get to the patient it’s too long.”
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition July 26, 2012