Retired registered nurse Sharon Chartier had been sick for several weeks when, on Feb. 7, she woke up feeling weak and believed she was experiencing symptoms of a heart attack.
She called 911 and was directed to the ambulance, only to be told there were none available to pick her up at that time. Chartier was shocked.
“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 lives alone, and felt that she might die alone.
“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.”
Once the ambulance arrived, Chartier said she got very good care. The paramedics told her the hospitals were overwhelmed. They did an assessment to determine whether her heart was at risk, and they headed to Saskatoon City Hospital. But once they arrived there, they were told the ER was full.
Chartier had to spend yet another hour in the ambulance before they were permitted to offload her.
The retired nurse did not have a heart attack, and was treated for her symptoms. Today she is back at home. But the experience deeply troubled her.
“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.”
Chartier wants the Saskatchewan government to be more clear about its plan to fix the ambulance shortage problem.
“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.
NDP call on province to address ambulance shortage
The Official Opposition challenged the Sask. Party government about the province’s ambulance shortage, relaying Chartier’s story, during question period at the legislature Wednesday afternoon.
“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 health care system. And when she needed the health-care system to be there for her, this government let her down.”
Health Minister Paul Merriman said what happened to Chartier should never have happened.
“This is not acceptable. This is not something that anybody in Saskatchewan should expect. There are peak times and low times within our ambulance provider.”
Merriman said the province is actively working on solving the ambulance shortage.
“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 per cent since December,” Merriman said.
The health minister said the province added 70 full-time paramedic jobs in its last budget. But he acknowledged that the health-care system is still, at times, over capacity.