January 05, 2014 at 6:21 PM
The BC Ambulance Service Station 225 was unusually busy in the lead up to New Year’s eve this year. Paramedic Brendan Donohue says that during his shift between midnight on December 29th and midnight on December 30th, he responded to four calls, which, he says, is unusual during the typically slow winter season. Donohue drove to those calls in the station’s new ambulance, which is equipped with a computer-aided dispatch (CAD) system. This device relays all the information collected through the telephone dispatcher, such as the address, the type of emergency, and the age of the patient directly to the paramedics in the driver and passenger seats of the ambulance.
“When we get paged for an emergency, we call the dispatcher to confirm that we’ve received the message,” says Donohue. “Once we’re in the ambulance, the CAD shows the information collected by the dispatcher as it comes in.”
What the new system does not offer is updated software for the GPS system that ensures the ambulance drivers take the most direct route emergency locations.
For Caring Circle coordinator Colleen O’Neil, this is a major concern.
“I’ve heard from many people on-island who have had the unfortunate need to call the ambulance who’ve told me it has taken far longer for the paramedics to get to them than they feel comfortable with,” says O’Neill.
Donohue says that he does not find the GPS system to be reliable, and that for the most part, paramedics from off-island rely on their local-colleagues to get them where they are going.
Donohue is one of up-to 40 off-island paramedics who make up Bowen’s ambulance staff. There are currently three paramedics who live on Bowen, and one person who is training to join the team.
There are two paramedics on call at all times for the Bowen ambulance service, but there is no guarantee that one of them will be local.
The team is made up of two levels of paramedics: Emergency Medical Responders, who have completed a roughly two-week training course; and Primary Care Paramedics, who train for four months. They are trained to perform a range of medical procedures, including inserting an IV, and giving patients medication for asthma, pain and low blood-sugar. If a situation requires someone with a higher level of training, the responding paramedics will call for an Advanced or Critical Care Paremedic, who will be brought to the scene by helicopter. However, these can only be called in once the local paramedics have arrived at the emergency and evaluated its severity.
Donohue says that it is not unheard of for patients to simply skip calling 911, and come directly to the Ambulance Station on Miller Road.
“There’s no walk-in clinic on the island, so in a way this place acts as a substitute,” he says. “Often times, people come in with cuts that they want sutured, but we’re not qualified to do that so we recommend they go to the hospital.”
He says that during his recent stint on Bowen, he’s seen a toddler brought in with burns caused by a wood stove, and someone with chest pains who was driving to the ferry but missed it. The ambulance service got this patient on the emergency water taxi and then in an ambulance to the hospital.
As far as the challenges regarding getting to a destination in a timely manner, Donohue says the problem is not unique to Bowen.
“It’s a rural problem,” he says.
Colleen O’Neil says she hopes a call to the BC Ambulance Service with regards to updating GPS software will help deliver a solution.