Ambulance delays an ongoing concern, says Warman Fire Chief

Ambulance delays during peak times are a concern for emergency responders in many communities throughout the Saskatoon region

Medical First Responders in Warman, Martensville and other communities in the Saskatoon region are concerned about delays with ambulances responding to non-urgent medical calls.

Warman Fire Chief Russ Austin says there have been numerous cases where Medavie Ambulances based in Saskatoon have been delayed anywhere from one hour up to two and a half hours. In many of those instances, an ambulance that was enroute to Warman was re-routed to another emergency of higher priority.

Austin said another major bottleneck is the length of time that ambulances and paramedics must wait at hospital emergency rooms while their patients are transferred to a bed. In addition, he said, the call volume for ambulances in the City of Saskatoon itself is very high, which adds to the delays during peak hours.

In a report to the Warman City Council’s Committee of the Whole meeting on Monday, January 21, Austin said the issue of ambulance delays is a common concern among medical first responders in many communities, including Martensville, Dalmeny, Langham and Osler.

“We had a meeting last week, and everyone reported the same delays,” said Austin. “It’s systemic.

“We have responded to non-life-threatening ‘alpha’ or ‘bravo’ calls in town, where the patient has not lost consciousness, there is no serious bleeding from wounds, and their vital signs are stable. In those instances when we call for an ambulance we have had the dispatcher tell us that no units are available to send.

“At that point, we continue to monitor the patient, and if the situation worsens, we immediately call in and they will upgrade their response.”

But the response time still depends on the number of ambulance units available at any given time, said Austin. He noted that Medavie recently added another ambulance base at the north end of Saskatoon on Wanuskewin Road, which has reduced the response time if an ambulance from that base is available.

But overall, the delays continue to be an issue, he noted.

Austin said ambulance delays at hospital emergency rooms are a result of a shortage of beds.

“The issue is that when an ambulance delivers a patient to one of the hospitals, they are forced to wait with the patient until a nurse takes a report from them, keeping their ambulance in the parking lot of the hospital until that happens.

“The nurses cannot take a report due to Saskatchewan Health Authority policy until there is an emergency bed available. So there is a hallway full of patients and paramedics sitting for three to seven hours  routinely and a good portion of road ambulances are not on the road.”

Austin said the Saskatchewan Health Authority is working on a GPS-based system to dispatch the nearest ambulance  to any call.

“So if Rosthern Ambulance is driving past Warman after dropping a patient in Saskatoon, for example, and we get a call, then Rosthern Ambulance will be dispatched, because it’s closest, not Medavie Ambulance,” said Austin. “It’s a more efficient system.

“However, until they fix the admitting backlog at the hospitals the issue will never fully resolve itself.”