Canada is experiencing a surge in demand for healthcare services and there’s not enough staff to go around. That has led to dramatic delays for patients seeking emergency care. A retired nurse experienced these delays firsthand in early February when she woke up feeling weak and believed she was having a heart attack.
Sharon Chartier, a former RN in Saskatchewan, called 9-1-1 on Feb. 7 to request an ambulance but the dispatcher told her there were none available in her area.
“I laid on the floor in case I went unconscious or my heart stopped, and I didn’t know what to do,” Chartier said. “I phoned my two sons because I didn’t know if I was having a heart attack. I said my possible final goodbyes to my sons, and I laid there for over an hour.”
Chartier, who lives alone, said she was afraid she was going to die because no one was coming to save her. “And finally I got a call saying the ambulance was on its way, and I just started crying because it was horrible. It was incredibly traumatic.”
But her troubles didn’t end there.
When the ambulance arrived, she said the paramedics checked her heart and transported her to Saskatoon City Hospital, but the ER was full, forcing her to wait in the ambulance for another hour before she could receive the proper care.
After the emergency medical personnel finally offloaded her, the doctors told her she wasn’t having a heart attack after all. They treated her symptoms and sent her back home, but, as a veteran of the healthcare industry, the experience left her deeply shaken.
“How are they gonna solve this? When you go to a hospital, they always triage you. And so, the sickest person goes first, right? But if you’re at home and you’re the sickest person, but you can’t even get anybody to triage you … it’s just so messed up.”
She wants to see the government come up with a solution to the ongoing ambulance crisis, so people experiencing an emergency can get the help they need.
“This is life and death. We live in a country where we think we’re being looked after and we’re safe, but we’re not safe. We aren’t safe. You could be dying and calling for help, and nobody’s coming to get you,” said Chartier.
The leader of the country’s Opposition Party used Chartier’s story to criticize the current party’s policies.
“The ebbs and flows of this government’s failures are hurting people,” said Chartier’s NDP MLA Nathaniel Teed of Saskatoon Meewasin. “This government failed her when she needed it the most. She spent her career as a registered nurse, looking after others in our healthcare system. And when she needed the health-care system to be there for her, this government let her down.”
Canadian Health Minister Paul Merriman mirrored his concerns in a public statement and assured the public that his administration is doing everything it can to solve the problem.
“In the last three months, we’ve been able to reduce the amount of alternate level of care people in our hospitals by 20 per cent. We’ve also been able to reduce the amount of time that the ambulances are waiting at the hospitals in Saskatoon and in Regina, especially from rural Saskatchewan … it’s down 40 percent since December,” Merriman said.
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