Editorial – A measure of failure
By Jim Duff, The Suburban
Priority 1: Most life-threatening injuries such as heart attack, respiratory failure. Under Urgence Santé guidelines, ambulances should arrive within five minutes.
Priority 2: Urgent but non-life-threatening emergencies, such as loss of consciousness. Ambulance delay: within 10 minutes.
Priority 3: Non-urgent calls of a serious nature, such as elderly persons requiring assistance. Ambulance transport as soon as it becomes available.
As The Suburban’s Jason Magder reports, it now appears certain that the Tremblay administration, the Montreal Fireman’s Brotherhood and the Charest government will reach an agreement this week on a deal that will see the installation of an island-wide first responder service to answer 911 medical emergencies.
The theory behind making firefighters first responder providers is solid. In many Quebec communities, volunteer and paid-per-call firefighters arrive at medical emergencies in less than nine minutes, usually well ahead of ambulance co-ops that can take half an hour or more. As The Suburban was first to report Nov. 24, ambulance response times in many parts of Montreal Island are dangerously slow and getting slower; first responder services will bridge the gap between that first 911 call and the arrival of Urgences Santé.
But let’s not confuse the system being agreed to by the megacity, the firefighters’ union and the provincial government with perfection. First, the firefighters will only roll on Priority 1 calls. As the Urgences Santé code above illustrates, Priority 1 calls account for a fraction of all medical emergencies. Will everyone else lie there until Urgences Santé techs arrive? Apparently.
Ever since the forced mergers, we have warned of the dangers of leaving emergency medical service decisions to central governments. Côte St. Luc’s EMS volunteers are everything a true first-responder service should be and the only reason Côte St. Luc’s EMS is not the gold standard for the entire island is due to the failure of the Tremblay administration to cut a better deal with the union and the province.
One could have predicted that the firefighters’ union would hold out for the best deal possible, considering their history of letting Montreal burn. We could also have expected Quebec to drag its heels when it comes to getting people to hospital faster and in better shape, since slow ambulances are an efficient method of rationing healthcare. Every patient dead on arrival at hospital saves the province thousands, so why rush? No wonder the Liberal government, and the Parti Québécois government before it, have no interest in paying paramedics to save lives.
What we can’t stomach is how the megacity has squandered the brilliant first-responder legacy it inherited from the suburbs. Instead of making their example the gold standard for the island, this administration has laboured to ensure that nothing is left to highlight the mediocrity of the common denominator. Anyone looking for a measure of the failure of the megacity need look no further.