A major rethinking of the road ambulance system in the province has some ambulance operators concerned for the future of their business.
Contracts for private ambulance operators in the province expired at the end of September and will not be renegotiated for another three-year term.
Instead, the existing contracts will extend until March 2020, at which point a whole new system for private ambulance operators will be put in place.
The question is what will that system look like.
Wade Smith, owner of Smith’s Ambulance Service in Whitbourne, isn’t sure what’s next for his business.
“We see this as an attack on us. It doesn’t need to be,” said Smith.
“You’re talking about small business here. None of us have the resources to bid on a large contract. A lot of these are family businesses.”
Health Minister John Haggie says that after March 2020, a new request for proposals will be issued for ambulance contracts across the province, with a new model coming down the pipe.
It could mean one large operator handling all ambulance services, it could mean more authority for the province’s health authorities, or it could mean something new altogether.
Haggie says the existing ambulance operators will be consulted about the new system.
“I want to listen to what the ambulance operators have to say,” said Haggie.
“I don’t have any preconceived ideas. That would be part of the next phase, which is getting around the table with the ambulance operators and saying, ‘If you were going to design this from scratch, what would it look like?’”
In the meantime, Smith says he’ll keep bringing people to the hospital as usual, but the future of his business is uncertain.
“We’re operating as we always did, but we have no idea what government’s intentions are,” said Smith.
About 61 ambulance operators work in the province, 49 of which are privately owned.
The provincial government spends about $61 million on road ambulance services annually.
A 2010 auditor general’s report of the road ambulance system in the province raised concerns about the system, with concerns that road ambulances “may not be safe, attendants may not have the required level of training, and contract provisions with the operators are not being adequately monitored.”
On the last point, the auditor general’s report found $156,785 was paid out during “inactive periods.”
Reports like that factored into Haggie’s decision to change the ambulance system.
The report recommended legislation be established to operate the ambulance program — Newfoundland and Labrador is the only province without specific ambulance legislation.
Smith says rumours are that Medavie Health Service is being eyed as one of the major suppliers for ambulance services in the province.
Haggie says no negotiations with Medavie are underway, but ambulance operators from across the country would be able to apply to the 2020 request for proposals, whatever they may look like.