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Masset’s mayor worries ambulance shortage will exacerbate emergency room closures

Northern Health is planning for potential emergency room closures
An ambulance sits outside of the Port Clements Medical Centre in June, 2022. (Photo: Kaitlyn Bailey/Haida Gwaii Observer)

The impact of a potential Northern Health Authority emergency room closure at Masset’s hospital will be compounded by the community’s ambulance shortage and those in need of ambulances may not receive prompt emergency care, Sheri Disney, mayor of Masset, said Feb. 7.

“They’re expecting that it could be somewhere between a three and a four-hour call-out,” Disney said about the length of time it will take the ambulance to get a patient to the south hospital.

Northern Health is planning for potential emergency service closures at the Northern Haida Gwaii Hospital in Masset due to a lack of nurses. As a result, the village mayor worries that the existing ambulance shortage will worsen the situation.

The paramedic will have to load a patient into the ambulance, drive them from Masset to Daajing Giids, make sure they are stable and they remain stable until an on-call doctor can get to the hospital and then drive all the way back to the northern end of the island.

“So in that three or four-hour call-out time frame, if anything happens to anyone else in our community during that time, they will be unattended for even longer,” she said.

Currently, if Northern Health is unable to find nurses to cover the upcoming shift gaps, the health authority is considering either closing acute care in-patient beds or closing the emergency room for periods. In both situations, patients will be rerouted to the hospital in Daajing Giids, Haida Gwaii Hospital and Health Centre - Xaayda Gwaay Ngaaysdll Naayin, which is more than an hour’s drive by vehicle.

“From what I understand, it forces the emergency response team into a situation where they need to triage. They have to decide when they show up on-site if someone is stable enough to just leave until the morning and then direct them to the hospital or if they rush them down to Daajing Giids.”

She went on to describe a situation last summer when she found someone laying on the ground. Disney has her first aid certification so she attended to them and called for help. There were no ambulances available in Masset so she had to wait while trying to keep the person stabilized until an ambulance came from Port Clements, a 40-kilometre trip.

“So if our emergency room happened to be closed during that time, then the ambulance would have had to come from Port Clements to Masset, stabilize the person, get them in the ambulance and then drive all the way down to Daajing Giids,” she said.

Northern Health will have to make decisions about closures days ahead of time to give enough lead time to BC Emergency Health Services, Ciro Panessa, Northern Health’s chief operating officer for the Northwest, said.

BC Emergency Health Services is not immune to workforce instability and staffing vacancies, just like the health authority, he said.

Panessa said his focus is to first avoid emergency room closures. Second, if they do have to temporarily close emergency services, to keep it as short as possible.

“I do acknowledge that puts extra pressure on those paramedics and on the emergency health system services, which I don’t want to do and would like to avoid.”

He said depending on when the closure is and what staff are available, even with an emergency room closure, the hospital will look at whether they can triage and stabilize someone ahead of emergency transport.

The health authority is also looking into setting up non-emergency transportation options between Daajing Giids and Masset to help patients and their families travel back and forth.

If a patient from a northern community, such as Masset or Old Masset, requires care at the hospital in Daajing Giids, the transportation service will help them get back home for free, he explained.

While the details of this service were not sorted out when Panessa spoke with Black Press Media, he said they were looking into options during the weekday to start.

READ MORE: Masset’s emergency department faces potential closures

 Kaitlyn Bailey | Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
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