May 29, 2023

‘Impossible’: Couple wait 2.5 hours for ambulance after injury in Halifax Park |

A Nova Scotia couple was left in shock after it took more than two hours for an ambulance to arrive at a downtown Halifax park for a painful injury.

Donna McInnis and her husband Kevin went to Point Pleasant Park in the south end of Halifax on October 30th. It was a sunny day.

An elderly couple walked by the retaining wall to see a large aircraft carrier docked in Halifax Harbour.

McInnis walked just a few steps ahead, and when she turned around, her husband was nowhere to be seen. He had fallen between a short retaining wall and a parked vehicle and injured his hip.

He immediately called 911.

According to him, it took two and a half hours for the ambulance to arrive.

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“I was shocked,” McInnis said. “I was unsure that help was coming. I didn’t know what else to do.”

Donna McInnis says her husband was in pain for hours while they waited for an ambulance.

Reynold Gregor / Global News

He knew somewhat where to apply pressure to avoid nerve damage, so they stayed put.

“He was convulsing and shaking more and more. He was clearly in pain,” McInnis said.

He said some passers-by stayed with them for a while, but eventually they had to leave and it started to get cold and dark outside.

“I couldn’t leave him even for support if I knew what to do.”

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McInnis said he never thought it would take so long for an ambulance to arrive. The park is located less than four kilometers from the QEII emergency department.

“Time passes very slowly,” he said. “The first 20 minutes you’re watching eagerly, half an hour later you’re calling ‘Do you remember us?’, the next hour. The next hour is just awful.”

When the ambulance arrived, McInnis said they told him they came from Hants County — nearly an hour’s drive away.

“I was in the heart of the city and there was no ambulance available.”

“It’s unimaginable,” he said.

Delays the general event

Kevin McMullen, business director of the Nova Scotia Association of Paramedics, said incidents like this happen “all too often.”

“Our apologies from myself and our paramedic for the delay to her and her husband,” McMullen said.

“It’s unfortunate. We’re seeing an increase in call demand and a decrease in resources because we just can’t staff enough units right now.”

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Health Minister Michelle Thompson also apologized to McInnis. Although he was not familiar with the details of the incident, he said he was “very sorry for what happened.”

The discharge times confirmed by Thompson are a large part of the ambulance’s expectations. He said the government is working to increase capacity in long-term beds to reduce discharge times for arriving patients.

“We’re working with the paramedics, we’re working with the union and the company,” Thomson said. “We’ve increased the number of non-EMS drivers to separate transfers, non-urgent transfers from emergency calls.”

After that change, the number of calls performed by paramedics dropped to 22 percent from 85 percent, according to Thompson.

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However, he said that there are currently vacant paramedic positions in the province.

“We know the workforce is a significant issue,” Thompson said, adding that during the COVID-19 pandemic, there were fewer paramedics graduating and absenteeism increased. “It’s not just one thing, we have to look at the whole workforce.”

McMullen said staff retention should be the board’s top priority.

“Working conditions are terrible now for paramedics,” McMullen said.

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“One hundred paramedics have left the system in the last 10 months, and they’re leaving for a variety of reasons: to go to other areas that pay more money, better working conditions, more resources.”

Click to play video: Paramedic burnout a growing concern as staffing shortages persist

Paramedic burnout is a growing concern, as staffing shortages continue

McMullen said bringing in drivers was helpful, but more needs to be done.

“They’re doing their best, I understand. But we have a lot of calls,” he said.

“We have some of the best-trained paramedics in Canada right here in Nova Scotia, and we’re losing that expertise.”

Provincial NDP leader Claudia Chender agrees.

“I think it’s terrible,” Chender said of the McInnis situation.

“We simply do not have enough paramedics. Even though the government says it’s working on it, we don’t see any evidence of it… I think it’s very scary for people.”

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The union said that while improving the system will take time, more competitive wages are a quicker solution.

“We are at the bottom end of the scale in terms of pay for our paramedics, who are highly trained and work according to Canadian excellence,” added McMullen.

“If you have a system like this, you have to pay for it. It’s expensive, we get that.”

As for the public, McMullen wants to reassure Nova Scotians that they will get the help they need.

“Right now we’re stressed to the max,” he said. “But please keep calling. Be patient. You will get professional help from our paramedics who care a lot.”

— With files from Global News’ Alicia Draus

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