EMS not always available: Urgences Santé
By Joel Goldenberg, The Suburban
According to statistics provided to The Suburban by the Urgences Santé ambulance service, the availability of EMS volunteers for emergency calls varied wildly during September.
In most instances, the city’s three EMS vehicles were unavailable for emergencies for stretches of time ranging from eight hours in a day – mostly the overnight shift – to nearly an entire day.
The longest space of time was, according to Urgences Santé’s statistics, when all three EMS vehicles were unavailable from 11:23 p.m. Sept. 20 to 5:45 p.m. Sept. 21; from 10 p.m. Sept. 21 to 3 p.m. Sept. 22 and from 3:39 p.m. to 8 p.m. On Sept. 21 and 22, EMS vehicles were only available for nine hours in a 48-hour period.
These statistics surprised Urgences Santé spokesman André Champagne.
“They’ve always been very available,” he said Friday. “It’s a volunteer service. I figure they’re probably running out of breath or staff – I don’t know. They used to be available for us most of the time.
Meanwhile, the EMS, which is able to respond to local calls before Urgences Santé and stabilize patients, is boosting its efforts to recruit volunteers and solicit donations.
Côte St. Luc councillor Glenn Nashen says EMS’s volunteer strength “is more or less about the same as where it’s been usually – about 70 volunteers, with about 40 or 50 that are considered quite active. Of those, there are 20 to 25 that are super active.
“As long as I’ve been involved, it’s really been about the same.”
Nashen said EMS is covering 76 to 78 percent of the clock on average for the year.
“The evening is when we’re busiest, and we cover a little over 90 percent, as much as 96 percent,” he said. “During the day, we’re about 80 percent.”
But he admitted that the overnight coverage is the weakest in the cycle. “It’s been that way forever,” he said. “We have the least amount of calls then. We want to cover our busiest times, the evening.”
Nashen declined comment on Urgences Santé’s statistics for September, calculated by The Suburban to be 66.2 percent on average up to Sept. 25.
“I don’t know if their numbers are the same as ours, EMS didn’t do the September numbers just yet.”
Nashen also acknowledged that the availability can vary widely day by day.
“Each day is completely and totally different, because we’re dealing with volunteers,” he said. “It’s entirely possible we have days that are covered 24 hours. One day was covered just 12 hours, which is rare, but I guess it can happen.”
EMS director Stéphane Kallos said he will take a closer look at the service’s data for September.
Nashen said EMS is recruiting more people to try and cover as much of the day as possible, and training more than in recent years.
Nashen said 20 people are currently in training, and that EMS’s volunteer numbers will soon rise to 90 .
“The new people haven’t been cleared through the system yet because the courses themselves since last year only began in August, so they’re going through the training process, which could last a few months. By the time they come out of the system, that’s five or 10 more medics on the road.
“Our numbers six to 12 months from now are going to increase considerably compared to the last year or two, when the courses were far, far less than what we have now.”
Asked if there is a morale problem because of the scheduled 2009 takeover of Priority 1 emergency calls by the Montreal fire department from EMS, Nashen said, “I can guarantee you that over the course of the 26 years I’ve been involved, there are peaks and troughs when it comes to morale. Right now, morale has improved considerably in 2006 from 2005 with new management.
“Things are looking very good, as far as I’m concerned.”
Côte St. Luc will lobby Quebec to have EMS respond to extreme emergency calls after Dec. 31, 2008, when Montreal is expected to shift those calls to its fire department.