By Laura Keil, Publisher/Editor

In an editorial two weeks ago I critiqued Northern Health’s diversion policy of ambulances sometimes bringing patients to McBride and sometimes to Valemount depending on where medical staff has been scheduled after-hours. 

In other words, Valemount patients who call 911 may be transported to McBride for assessments, and McBride patients may be transported to Valemount—an hour-long drive on the highway on top of the wait for the ambulance.

After publishing this editorial, I received feedback that this critique had demoralised a member of the local health team, as they felt this was a criticism of their work. In hindsight, I can see how this might have come through, so I want to clarify that I in no way intended to criticize the individual people working in our local health care system who are doing an outstanding job with limited resources.

There’s a difference between critiquing a policy and the people working under that policy. The intent of my editorial is to spur change to a policy that does not serve patients to a standard I believe should be the norm. 

This policy has been in place for many years and for years I’ve heard complaints about this system. This isn’t new news, but perhaps the complaints haven’t been loud enough. Now that COVID-19 appears to be winding down and staff numbers are up, it’s an opportunity to reconsider this policy to better serve patients.

I want to give kudos to the local health team. In my experience, the individual people working in Northern Health bring an empathetic approach to the diversion policy.

For instance, seven years ago, I was brought by ambulance to McBride where I was assessed by the nurse (the doctor, oddly, was located in Valemount). After being discharged from the McBride hospital at midnight with no way to return home (the ambulance had gone back to Valemount and my husband was on a backcountry trip), hospital staff allowed me to stay at the hospital overnight. The policy was to discharge me when I no longer needed medical attention, in other words, allow me to wander into the streets of McBride at midnight with no vehicle (luckily I did have my purse and a phone). But the staff made an exception to the rule and allowed me to stay, unofficially.

When there’s a critical staff shortage, I can see why diversions must happen. But diversions should be the exception, not the primary system. It puts a burden on patients as well as ambulance staff who must spend hours shuttling patients back and forth.

I welcome feedback on this issue. What do you think? What do you think is the solution? Write to us and share your views: [email protected]