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Central Alberta town fed up with ‘horrifying’ ambulance door issue

Undersized ambulance door at Innisfail Health Centre forcing patients to be unloaded outside during winter’s bitter cold and then rolled inside past alarmed citizens and staff.
MVT Innisfail Auxiliary ladies 1
Rose Winters, president of the Innisfail Health Centre Auxiliary (left), and Gina Armstrong, the auxiliary's vice-president, at Innisfail town council on Oct. 11 to seek a donation towards the cost to widen the ambulance door at the Innisfail Health Centre. Johnnie Bachusky/MVP Staff

INNISFAIL, Alta. - On Oct. 28, the Innisfail Health Centre Auxiliary will be celebrating its 50th anniversary of selfless service to the community; specifically fundraising for urgently needed medical equipment and accessories for the half-century old Innisfail Health Centre.

Rose Winters, president of the hospital auxiliary, and Gina Armstrong, the auxiliary’s vice-president, appeared before Innisfail town council on Oct. 11 to appeal for help on a matter that has long frustrated patients and staff – an undersized ambulance door forcing patients to be unloaded outside during winter’s bitter cold and then rolled inside past alarmed citizens and staff.

The delegation of volunteers was seeking a donation to help cover the $45,000 cost to widen the hospital’s ambulance door and to end future “shock” to others when the rush for urgently needed care falls victim to “horrifying” incidents.

“Last winter we had one elderly lady that was dumped in the snow coming off the ambulance, which is not something you'd like to see for your grandmother,” Armstrong told council. “She was ill to begin with. She was in her 90s and it was just a big shock to her.”

Winters told council the auxiliary has so far raised about $25,000, including $10,000 earlier this year from a 50/50 raffle. However, she added there is an “urgent need” to secure the rest of the money to move forward on a right-sized ambulance door.

“It's just not proper. We really feel it needs to be done, and the sooner the better. We would like to get some response on it,” said Winters, adding a request to address the issue was made at the hospital through Alberta Health Services.

All members of town council supported the urgent appeal but pointed the finger at the province. Council then unanimously passed a motion to advocate on their behalf to the province to get the job done and quickly.

“We understand the urgency to get this done but at the same time it shouldn't be falling on municipal government to pay for it, and it shouldn't be falling on the hospital auxiliary to have to raise funds,” said Town of Innisfail Mayor Jean Barclay, adding it was her understanding the undersized ambulance door has been an unresolved issue for as long as three years.

“How do we get this finished? We shouldn't be unloading patients at their most vulnerable time in a parking lot and then taking them through a public lobby,” she said. “And then, as the delegation mentioned, there was an incident where someone fell off a gurney. I mean, that’s horrifying.”

“Like I said, it disappoints me this is falling on you,” Barclay told the delegation. “And it's falling on (council) when it should be falling on the provincial government that has a 13-plus billion-dollar surplus.”

Barclay said she met with Innisfail-Sylvan Lake MLA Devin Dreeshen a few months ago and requested he contact the manager of the hospital centre.

“I understand that has not happened. People get busy and I understand that. So, it's just a matter of doing some follow up and having a discussion about this,” said Barclay.

Coun. Jason Heistad was even more direct.

“This isn't right and there has been communication with our MLA in the last couple of months and the MLA should have returned an email or even (made) a personal call,” said Heistad in council, who added the following day that Dreeshen promised last year to improve communications with his constituents. “This is concerning that there has been no commitment even though there has been communication directly from our mayor.”

In an interview with the Albertan, Dreeshen confirmed he had the ambulance door conversation with Barclay, adding he then raised the issue twice with provincial Health Minister Jason Copping.

He said the decision as to when to move ahead with the door project is made by AHS.

“This is something that I'm supportive of. I'll keep advocating that the funding be there to make this improvement,” said Dreeshen. “To me, it's such a no-brainer to make sure that patients going to the Innisfail hospital can actually go inside the ambulance bay, rather than having to wait out in the parking lot.

“The construction will take some time,” he added, noting the project’s timetable could be sped up as there is now a new premier with the possibility of a new health minister arriving.  “I think the fact this hasn't moved for quite some time it would be something with a fresh set of eyes that could be on this in the next week or two; that it would be given the urgency and the priority that it needs.”