St James ambulance services inadequate - Costly private providers filling the gap
With two of the seven government ambulance assigned to St James now out of service, there is no question that the parish is not equipped to adequately serve its just roughly 186,000 residents and thousands of visitors who travel there annually.
Interestingly, while St James has some 24 health centres across the parish, the Cornwall Regional Hospital (CRH) is the only one with ambulances assigned to it.
“Six ambulances are assigned to the CRH, but two are currently out of service, and there is a request that has been submitted for two new ambulances. We don’t have ambulances at our health centres, per se, as the CRH is the only public hospital in St James, and that’s the only place that would have ambulances,” explained Errol Greene, who heads the Western Regional Health Authority (WRHA).
The six ambulances assigned to CRH are numbered among the 18 in the WRHA’s ambulance fleet to serve the parishes of St James, Trelawny, Hanover, and Westmoreland.
Because there are a number of private providers of ambulance services, such as Life Call Ambulance Service, which has a 10-ambulance fleet serving private health facilities like the Hospiten medical facility in Montego Bay, the overall situation is not considered as being dire.
“The current protocol for civilians who require ambulance service to transport ill persons to hospitals is that ambulances operated by emergency response teams (ERT) are strategically placed at fire stations to respond to such emergencies. Whenever calls are placed to the emergency number listed in the telephone directory, these calls are directed to the ERT,” said Greene.
In regard to the sole ambulance assigned to the St James fire service, the Jamaica Fire Brigade’s district officer in charge of the Ironshore station, Carl Wallace, admits that it is not enough to address emergencies across the parish.
“We definitely need more units, because at times, the CRH doesn’t have a unit available, and ours is the only one to serve the parish. Fortunately, we have private services available now, so persons have options instead of calling us,” said Wallace.
“Once someone calls and asks for an ambulance, if we’re unavailable, we give them all possible agencies, whether it’s the CRH, or the Life Call private service. We tell them all available options so they can decide which one to take,” Wallace explained.
While efforts to ascertain the cost of utilising private ambulance prove difficult to come by, based on the fact that the providers were unwilling to disclose such information, The Gleaner understands that it is fairly expensive and could be prohibitive to persons with limited resources.
Three years after a traumatic experience with the regular ambulance service in St James, Moya-Gaye Edwards, of Content district in rural St James, is still of the view that had there been an ambulance to transport her now deceased grandmother when she had a medical emergency in 2016, she probably would still be around.
“When my grandmother was alive three years ago, it was very bad because for hours we were here waiting [for an ambulance]. We called CRH and they said the ambulance wasn’t back as yet, and to tell you the honest truth, it’s because we had a family member working there why we even got the help,” Edwards recalled.
“It was the worst thing ever, and mi nuh think it really make no sense. Like, seriously, we need help and we nuh see it coming. The delay did make my grandmother’s situation worse, but as to whether it caused her death, I’m not God so I can’t talk about that part of it,” said Edwards.
For Omar Robinson, president of Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association, the need for an effective ambulance service in St James, which is the hub of the nation’s tourism, is not lost on him.
“The ambulance system is linked to the hospital, and what is there in the public system is inadequate to cover everybody, so what a lot of people are doing is using the private services, which are highly expensive,” said Robinson.
“There’s no requirement for any hotel to provide ambulances on property; that’s not in our regulations. The only requirement is to have a nurse’s station for hotels with over 100 rooms,” noted Robinson.
According to Enoch Gooden, the managing director of Life Call, his company has a total of 10 units based in Negril, Lucea, Montego Bay, Runaway Bay and Ocho Rios.