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LETTER: A tale of two health authorities

An Eastern Health ambulance at the Health Sciences Centre in St. John’s. —
File photo

On Nov. 28, 2018, I had a bad health scare, experiencing a slight heart attack in my home. Thanks to the professional work of Triton ambulance attendants Roger and Megan, I arrived in Springdale hospital. Unfortunately, I had a massive heart attack there. I was then transferred by ambulance to Grand Falls Central Health Care Centre, where I spent the next few days in intensive care. But the Grand Falls hospital can’t diagnose your condition, so patients have to be sent to Eastern Health in St. John’s for a dye test to find out if there are blocked arteries or heart damage.

On Friday, Nov. 30, I was told I had an appointment in St. John’s Monday for a dye test, and the person next to me in ICU was going too. Despite a storm warning Monday, two ambulances arrived. The first pit stop was in Clarenville, which I thought took too long — 25 or 30 minutes. Shortly after we left Clarenville, with lots of snow on the highway, we got a call there was accident up ahead. Our ambulances were stuck in the lineup, despite a call from someone instructing them (I overheard the call) to turn on their sirens and go to the head of the line. Neither driver did so, with two patients aboard who had suffered heart attacks.

Within 30 minutes of that, there was a call to turn around and go back. After spending eight hours on my back strapped to a piece of board, we arrived back in Grand Falls. To anyone who’s never experienced a ride in an ambulance, it’s like riding in the back of a dump truck.

Although we were scheduled to go again, the bad news was that heart specialists in St. John’s have a meeting on Tuesdays after they get the dye test results, to figure out the best procedure for their patients. Because we missed our appointments on Monday, we would have to spend more time waiting in ICU.

I got the dye test Dec. 4 and was shocked to learn I had six blocked arteries. On Dec. 14th I had to go back to St. John’s via ambulance for an operation.

Now, to the point of this letter. For several years I have spent winters in Placentia and if I hadn’t had the heart attack when I did, I would have been there. So, I didn’t want to travel back to Grand Falls from St. John’s — another five-hour ambulance trip.

As I had to be under supervision 24 hours after the operation, I asked the doctors in Grand Falls to let me stay in St. John’s for that period and then get discharged and go to Placentia, roughly an hour away. They agreed. The next morning I said goodbye to the nurses, who had treated me so well, and left for St. John’s.

After the operation, there was no bed available and they were going to send me back to Grand Falls. After spending 23 hours on the flat of my back in an ambulance, I was not about to spend another five hours going back to Grand Falls. They agreed I could stay in St. John’s at a friend’s house for the 24-hour period, and I was to dial 911 if there were any complications. That night I was sick, throwing up and with signs of blood from the operation. We called 911 and they sent an ambulance. The attendants checked me out and thought I was all right, but said they’d take me back to the hospital if I wanted — which I did, after what had happened to me. The next day we went to Placentia, where I spent the winter. Shortly after, I received a bill of $115 from Eastern Health for the ambulance fee.

After saving them a five-hour ambulance ride back to Grand Falls, I appealed the bill but was told I had to pay it because I didn’t fall under the Eastern Health authority. I was treated as an outpatient. If I had been in the Placentia hospital, instead of Grand Falls, I would not have to pay the fee. I thought health care was the same throughout the province, with treatment at any hospital without charge. But because I went from the Central Health authority to Eastern Health, I had to pay the extra cost.

This system is not being run efficiently.

Still, one year later I’m feeling fine and counting my blessings.

Capt. Wilfred Bartlett (retired),
Green Bay
wilfbartlett@hotmail.com


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