Benefits of private company remain unseen: acting fire chief
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A private company hired by the province to ease the pressure on Brandon ambulances has so far had no noticeable impact on emergency responders due to the high demand for service, says acting fire Chief Terry Parlow.
Last summer, Manitoba Health solicited bids for a private stretcher service company to take over the transport of low-acuity patients — those who are classified as stable, with no emergency symptoms or need for immediate treatment — to help remedy the situation and free up ambulances and paramedics.
A private stretcher company was rewarded the contract at the end of last year and began offering services here earlier this month.
Brandon was selected for the service because the city and surrounding health-care facilities had the second-highest patient transfer numbers after Winnipeg.
Brandon Fire and Emergency Services responded to 500 additional primary response calls in 2022 (5,000) compared to 2021 (4,500).
However, Parlow said, the service is often pulled away to perform patient transfers between the airport and Brandon Regional Health Centre, which more than doubled from 350 in 2021 to more than 800 in 2022.
“That’s where the largest amount of our transfer increase was, in airport transfer, which obviously impacts everything else because when we’re busy on those we can’t necessarily respond to a primary call,” he said.
Transferring patients between hospitals and care centres in cities and towns is common for emergency services across Manitoba. When patients are being transported to medical appointments and require a stretcher, an ambulance is dispatched — taking the bus, and one or two paramedics out of circulation.
At the beginning of January, two private stretcher vehicles entered circulation in Brandon, but Parlow said because there are so many transfers in and around the health region, they haven’t noticed a reduction in calls.
“There are so many happening every day that we haven’t yet seen a very large impact on our service,” said Parlow.
A third stretcher vehicle was added later, and the service expanded beyond Brandon’s city limits with a patient pickup radius of 100 kilometres, said Dr. Rob Grierson, chief medical officer for emergency response services for Shared Health.
“The people who are moving in a stretcher vehicle are very, very, very stable. If there’s any potential need for a heart monitor or if there’s any potential expectation that the person might deteriorate, they are not going by stretcher car, they’re going by ambulance,” said Grierson.
The stretcher vehicle is booked in advance through the Medical Transportation Co-ordination Centre in Brandon by either the patient’s physician or primary care provider. The operators of the stretcher car are trained in first aid and CPR, which Grierson said is another benefit to the health-care system and to paramedics.
“If you’re a licensed paramedic with a high level of medical training and you have a patient that is completely stable that requires no medical care whatsoever and they just need somebody to move them from point A to point B, you’re not using your skills,” said Grierson.
There is concern by the union representing Manitoba paramedics that the private service won’t have the same regulations or accountability as paramedics. Jason Linklater pointed out that any privatized patient transportation service must have properly trained personnel.
“The paramedics in rural Manitoba often have fairly long transports,” said Linklater, president of the Manitoba Association of Health Care Professionals. “So, you can have a low-acuity patient during that transport, but that can change and may need intervention during that long transport.”
The stretcher service must adhere to provincial legislation under the Emergency Medical Response and Stretcher Transportation Act, including vehicle licence and keeping medical supplies such as an approved mattress, oxygen tanks, a suction device and blankets.
The stretcher service doesn’t address the real problem facing paramedics in the province, Linklater added, which is a labour shortage and stress because of low wages.
“It’s hard to address, to be honest,” Linklater said. “It’s on the level of a person has lost their leg, so you give them a band aid for the cut on their thumb.”
The other communities that received the private stretcher service are Winkler and Selkirk.