Ambulance issues under the microscope in New Brunswick
Published Wednesday, October 24, 2018 3:28PM ADT Last Updated Wednesday, October 24, 2018 6:10PM ADT
FREDERICTON -- The New Brunswick government has released a discussion paper on the province's ambulance service, but the opposition parties say action is needed to address a shortage of paramedics and a decline in response times.
There has been a growing number of public complaints about ambulance delays, especially in rural areas.
The 37-page report, released Wednesday, says a majority of the 101 vacant paramedic jobs have bilingualism as a requirement.
A court decision last year ordered the officially bilingual province to provide bilingual paramedic services, but this spring an adjudicator took a different view, saying that service in the language of choice didn't have to be immediate, and could be handled through the use of a translation service by phone.
The Liberal government then asked for a judicial review, which will be heard in January.
But Progressive Conservative Leader Blaine Higgs said solutions can be found by getting all the parties together to negotiate.
"We don't need more committees," Higgs said. "We just need to sit in a room with the managers of Ambulance New Brunswick, some paramedics, a good cross section of people on the political side, and let's just get this resolved."
Tuesday's throne speech said a legislature committee would be asked to complete a public review of the ambulance service by Dec. 15.
Premier Brian Gallant said the committee can make recommendations, but he believes the courts must resolve the language issue.
"We don't want to go against an arbitrator," Gallant said. "We don't want to go against the court. The advice we were given was that if we went against the court, we could be in contempt of court. So we asked for a review."
But Higgs said negotiating a solution would eliminate the need for a judicial review.
"If you resolve the problem, the court issue becomes irrelevant," he said.
Green Leader David Coon said the government should cancel the current ambulance management contract.
"It's time that both extra-mural and Ambulance New Brunswick be brought under the regional health authorities, and cancel the contracts they have with Medavie. It's clear they are not working. The management is not functioning," Coon said.
Problems with the ambulance service became a major issue for the People's Alliance party during the recent election campaign.
Leader Kris Austin said there is a service issue, not a language issue.
"We're not talking about denying anybody their linguistic rights," he said. "We're talking about implementing ambulance service differently so that everybody -- francophone and anglophone -- gets an ambulance when they need one."
The report makes numerous recommendations, including calls for increased recruitment efforts, a different language scale specific to health services, providing bilingual bonuses, and also hiring paramedics for their medical skills and then training them for a second language.
However the report warns there could be problems with each recommendation.
"Each option brings the risk of legal challenges as any decision could be precedent setting for health and other public services covered under the Official Languages Act," the report reads.
In its conclusion, the report stresses the need for public confidence in the ambulance system.
"There should never be a question if dialling 911 is the right thing to do when faced with an emergency."