Ambulance Cuts and a Cowboy’s Death

It was bound to happen.  And it did.

Serious questions have arisen about whether B.C. ambulance service cuts contributed to the death of a bull rider at a rodeo Friday.  And they must be answered.

Makwala Derickson-Hall was severely injured when he was bucked and then trampled by a rodeo bull  at the Valemount Rodeo. He was able to almost stand up and lunge his way towards the coral fence before collapsing on the ground.

He made it to hospital … but then succumbed to his injuries a few hours later.

 But  maybe he could have been saved … IF there had been an ambulance stationed at the opening of the annual rodeo that draws thousands each year to Valemount, near the BC-Alberta border.

Apparently, Valemount … a town  of 1,250… has two ambulances serving it and the surrounding rural communities. They were both away attending to highway accidents … so no ambulance was at the rodeo or even close by.

In a superb story Sunday night, Global TV’s Darlene Heidemann  raised the issue:  there was no ambulance on standby  at the rodeo and none in the immediate either. Why?

This raises a multitude of questions that should be pursued by all BC media this week.

Other news reports have pointed out that after Derickson-Hall was injured, it took an hour for an ambulance (and paramedic?)   just to make it to the rodeo from McBride, about 85 Km away. And then, of course, additional time to get him to a hospital.

It’s too early to know the answers.  But there are lots of questions that should be pursued:

How many ambulances and paramedics have  been stationed in and around Valemount over previous years?  Were these numbers affected by BC government cutbacks to service levels?

Was an ambulance and paramedic stationed at the rodeo “just in case” in previous years?  Was this affected by BC government cutbacks to service levels?

Did the delay in getting the young cowboy to hospital affect his chances of being saved?

They are hard, tough, trying questions … but they MUST be asked. And the issues  pursued.

If a life was lost because of ambulance/paramedic spending and service cutbacks at the same time that  the province has hundreds of millions of dollars to cover huge costs AND OVERUNS for the Olympic games, Whistler Highway, Canada Line, Convention Centre and new BC Place roof  … the public has the right to know.

And that would raise a hundred more questions … at least.

Harv Oberfeld

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13 Responses to Ambulance Cuts and a Cowboy’s Death

  1. Dr Fred says:

    A freudian slip, Harvey? 😛

    “Apparently, Valemount … a town of 1,250… has two ambulances swerving it and the surrounding rural communities. They were both away attending to highway accidents … so no ambulance was at the rodeo or even close by.”

    (Response; Oops! Now corrected. 🙂 h.o.

  2. Henri Paul says:

    Had this injury to Makwala Derickson-Hall occurred in the Vancouver metropolitan area, almost instantly there would have been 2-4 ambulances, a couple fire engines equipped with paramedics at the scene , and a hospital, not a glorified first aid post that he would be taken too. Why didn’t BC ambulance send a helicopter for him?Just about every other night on the news, BC ambulance helicopters are shown flying people to a hospital in theVancouver metropolitan area .Even though many times the hospital is only minutes away by road .
    Also in the news, the Princeton General hospital emergency ward is going to be down from 12-8-10 hours over the course of 3 days this week. This could easily be a disaster in the making .
    They(Princeton) also are only equipped with two ambulances, are on a major highway, A mine opening with approx 200 construction workers on site,sawmills, value added wood plants,pellet-pallet plants, etc,etc.6 km from Princeton a Young life of Canada youth facility capable of having 500 guests . A population of 4885 approximately for Princeton and Surrounding Area. Penticton General is one and half hours away. Gordon Campbell has turned the Beautiful BC Heartland into The Hurtland

  3. SB says:

    I can say as a first reeponder who covers Ambulance calls when they get need its management who set staffing call ins are the well publicized twoonie an hour pager call ins , i could be wrong but that is normal at least where i am , also a request for extra paramedics could have ben made for teh rodeo itself or they could have hired a private company im not sure what they have in that region though but there are many questions need asked for sure.
    I am sure the BC Ambulance paramedics would share any info in such regards allowed.

  4. Crankypants says:

    I am curious as to whether we are already getting a government spin on this story. There was another report on tonight’s evening news in which Ms. Heidemann reported that there was a 20 minute wait for an ambulance. She does state she got this information from attendees of the rodeo. I don’t know what she stated yesterday as I did not hear her report.

    CTV’s coverage did not even mention ambulances at all.

    One would assume that an event such as a rodeo would have an ambulance on site, be it public or private. If not, then I think that the organizers have some explaining to do.

    (Response: Globe & Mail says it took an hour for ambulance to get there. Clearly many big questions have to be answered. h.o)

  5. Andrew says:

    Harv – Long time reader, first time commenter.

    I’ve worked out of small stations up north before. Typically the event itself has to book and pay for an ambulance, if they book an ambulance a certain length before the even they can be entitled to volunteer medics. Of course, this also requires staff willing to skip the big event in the city to sit in an ambulance on the corner of the lot and do nothing all day. Private first aid companies can be used, but they are not allowed to transport. What happens a lot in the smaller communities is that they simply roll the dice as they don’t want to spend money on a unit cross covering another small town some distance away. What happens in larger metro centers, like say New West, is that if all the New West ambulances are busy, a coquitlam one goes and sits halfway between their station and the new west one to cover both areas. This isn’t always the case in smaller towns. A recent change in penticton made the foxtrot car (10 dollar an hour 90 second response time) the first out the door for transfers, while leaving the kilo car (2 dollar an hour, respond from home, unset goal for on the airtime) to cover the city. When asked why, BC Ambulance responded that it’s cheaper, and that nobody has died yet. One big reason among many small ones I’m on my way out of a service like this. One created wholly to protect people running off a mission statement of nobody has died yet.

    As for the helicopter response, it’s possible in small towns provided they are not currently busy with forestry, mining, oil companies, ect… and if the dispatcher is willing to take the inevitable shit storm of punishment he will receive for spending money on somebodies life. God help us all.

    (Response: Thanks for the terrific info. I believe these kinds of on-line discussions do a lot to educate us on the realities out there away from the cities. h.o)

  6. Ray c says:

    I think that most of the responsibility goes to the organizers of the rodeo. They should have hired a private doctor and ambulance for the duration of the event.

    Training and adrenaline could account for his ability to run off before collapsing even with a mortal injury.

    (Response: Do they make enough money at small town rodeos to do that? In addtion, my impression is that rural areas of the province pay so much towards big city projects, highways, bridges, subways, Games etc etc they shouldn’t have to pay for maybe a once a year event where they could use some provincial help as well. h.o.)

  7. D.M. Johnston says:

    I am staggered that such an event did not have a full time ambulance in attendance. Being involved with large events, I would have thought the insurers of the event would have made it mandatory. The organizers of the event, I think, are also negligent for not insuring an ambulance was stationed at the rodeo. Watch for a lawsuit.

    As for the seemingly ill served interior, they don’t call BC’s hinterland the ‘Hurtlands’ for nothing.

    Let us be clear, Mr. Campbell and all his Liberal ilk do not give a damn about anywhere or any one, unless it is the West side of Vancouver.

  8. Ruraidh says:

    Ray is correct.

    The final responsibility falls on the organizers and their insurance companies.

    But the question to be asked is whether such commercial events are governed by WORKSAFE BC. If they are, then perhaps our government regulators are just a bit too casual in not demanding medical care in attendance.

    As I understand it, some events of this type often require veterinary care to be in attendance for animal health reasons.

    Was this the case here or what are the facts. How are priorities set and by whom?

  9. Henri Paul says:

    Just read in the Sun about BC health regions, not too good.

    (Response: Good info. Don’t exactly know yet what happened wrong in this case, or maybe nothing at all. But there sure are a lot of questions. h.o)

  10. Wendy Ehler says:

    On a related topic, Harvey, in June I sent you a copy of a letter that I had sent to various local newspapers in the Lower Mainland. It had to do with the recent downsizing of the BC Ambulance Service’s Transfer Fleet. It officially started last week. The resultant very long delays for patient transfers and the increased work load on the Emergency Fleet ambulances might be something worth looking into.

    (Response: I get many, many letters ….have to delete most. But this one I kept: felt it was quite important and full of valuable info. For my readers, here it is:

    Hi Harvey: I know that you are on vacation, but as you were so supportive of the paramedics last year, during our strike, I thought to send you the letter that I emailed to several local newspapers.If you have any questions about this, please contact me. If you need any more information, I will be happy to get you in touch with the right people. Thanks – Wendy Ehler. Recently the British Columbia Ambulance Service announced that they were going to reduce their Transfer Fleet In the Vancouver/Fraser Valley area by nearly two thirds. This means that out of 23 transfer ambulances,14 will be gone with 9 remaining and operating at reduced hours. The government, who hold the purse strings, and under the auspices of Health Minister Kevin Falcon, says that there is a 5.2 million shortfall to the BCAS operating budget. This is their solution to the problem. They say that the number of transfers have dropped by 33% percent in the past few years. What this actually means is that the number of transfers are now at a manageable level, where before they were more than the fleet could handle and the extras were being given to the Emergency Fleet, preventing them from responding to emergency calls. The very reason why the Transfer Fleet was created in the first place, in the 1990’s, was due to the tragic death of a little girl in Maple Ridge. There was no emergency ambulance available to respond when she was choking on a piece of food – they were all doing transfers. Even with the reduction in transfers, they still number 29,000 plus calls per year. And BCAS wants to reduce the number of ambulances available to respond to them and put the burden on the emergency cars. As we get more people moving into the province and as the population ages, call volumes will increase. There are not enough ambulances now and the government is making no indication that they are going to increase the number of emergency ambulances. The health authorities in the region have contracted out some of the very stable transfers to a private company (thus the major reason for the reduction in Transfer Fleet calls). This is not a bad idea, as an ambulance is not always necessary. However, many patients from area hospitals go to other area hospitals every day for specialized procedures. They may go from Chilliwack, Abbotsford or White Rock to Royal Columbian, Vancouver General or St Paul’s Hospital for angiograms or angioplasties. They may be hospitalized patients going for radiation treatment, MRI’s, CT scans, day surgery and so on. It is far safer for them to go by ambulance than the private patient transfer service, because of the skill level and experience of the paramedics that work them and the equipment and resources available in the ambulance. The end result of this downsizing will be an increased and unreasonable amount of calls put on the remaining Transfer Fleet and on the Emergency Fleet, delays in responses to patients awaiting transfer, delays to emergency calls and a decrease in the level of service available to hospitals and patients with the definite possibility of unnecessary disability or death. All because of a 5.2 million dollar shortfall that the government doesn’t want to make up. However, they can spend over 400 million on a new roof for BC Place. It is just another example of how this government continues to download costs onto its citizens or to cut services. Anyone using the private transfer service out of the confines of the hospital will pay more than by using an ambulance, as they are a for profit business. If you think this is an important issue, please make your voice heard. Contact your local MLA or the Minister of Health, Kevin Falcon.

  11. Fred says:

    Stupid government not having an ambulance standing by. Should have had a medivac helicopter too, just in case.

    We deserve an ambulance, staffed with a full trauma team including a doctor, stationed on every corner of every town & city in BC because we are worth it.

    The real sad story is the usual coterie trying to make it a racial issue because the poor kid was aboriginal.

    A very tragic accident.

    But that is all it is.

  12. Rye says:

    A truly tragic event. Having worked at this station in the past I know that they would have done everything possible. However when a 2000 lb animal stomps on the middle of your chest there is not much that can be done to save you.
    I do know that, yes, the 2 Valemount ambulances were both out on separate calls. However one ambulance from McBride was in Valemount and had an 8 minute response time to the rodeo grounds. That is from time of dispatch to on scene time. The news pretty much got it all wrong, the ambulance was already in Valemount on cross-cover and not still in McBride!
    Unfortunately this is what these small towns and stations have to deal with on a regular basis. It is only one of the shortcomings of this service. I think with all the new developments, we will be hearing about a lot more sad and unfortunate events like this one. Just remeber where to direct your anger, not at us, the overworked and underfunded paramedics but you wonderful Liberal government for destroying this once world- renowned service.

  13. crh says:

    Our paramedics here on Salt Spring Island have to operate out of a motel. There station is actually a motel after a fire (over a year ago) burned down a house they were using at the time.

    Sad that this government priorities are not even high enough to find them a location of operate out of. Guess they’re waiting for privatization.

    Ray has it bang on with his comment above. A 2000lb animal will do lots of damage. Bad luck comes into play as to where it landed with its’ feet.

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