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New ambulance service operating at Whitefish Bay

FORT FRANCES—Naotkamegwanning Emergency Medical Service recently has been established at Whitefish Bay First Nation—and is one of the first ambulance services operating in a First Nation community in the northwest region.

Base supervisor Jeffrey White explained the initiative to have their own ambulance service started back in 2005.

“Health services approached me and asked if I’d be willing to take on the responsibility of setting up our ambulance service, which I did,” White noted last week, adding they became operational Oct. 1.

He indicated Bobby White, who has been the community’s First Response co-ordinator for the past 25 years, persisted in obtaining an ambulance service for many years and recognized the importance of having this service.

“He persisted in letting chief and council, as well as the director of health services, know that we would benefit greatly from having our own service,” Jeffrey White said.

“About 10 years ago, they actually sat down and seriously considered an ambulance service. [But] it wasn’t until 2005 where we received funding from the Ministry of Health to pursue certification,” he added.

White noted that in order to set up their own ambulance service, they had to apply for land ambulance certification, which is a two-phase approach for land ambulance service.

“The first thing we needed to do was set up a policy manual, which we did. And then the second phase was an interview and inspection from the Ministry of Health,” White recalled.

“Regulatory inspectors from southern Ontario came up to do that.”

Upon passing the inspection and interview, they were given a one-year licence to operate. White noted the inspectors will be visiting the Whitefish Bay base again in December to conduct a second inspection and interview.

“From there, they can stamp us with a three-year licence to operate,” he remarked. “It’s a long process. There’s a lot of T’s that need to be crossed and I’s that need to be dotted.”

White indicated they have been working towards the goal of opening their own ambulance service constantly since 2005.

“It’s not a matter of just slapping a few things together,” he stressed. “There’s a lot of regulations and compliance issues we needed to have addressed with the Ambulance Act and all others that come into effect with the service.

“It was a lot of learning for me because I’ve never done anything like this,” White added. “I’ve been a medic for about three years now and that’s where my experience in this came from.

“But I had to approach a lot of other people in the field to guide me and steer me in the right direction of what we needed to have done.”

White said having an ambulance service in their own community, instead of relying on the service in Sioux Narrows or Nestor Falls, improves patient care.

“Response times from the local service that serviced Whitefish Bay was anywhere from 15-20 minutes during the day and about half-an-hour in the evenings,” he noted.

“So with us being here during the days, the response time is within minutes, anywhere from two to five minutes,” he added. “It’s a considerable improvement during our operational times.”

Since Naotkamegwanning EMS is just starting out, it is not operating a 24-hour service. The Ministry of Health granted them to run an eight-hour shift, five days a week (Monday to Friday from 8 a.m.-4 p.m.)

“They have us operate minimally so we can become proficient and get our feet wet on what it takes to operate a service,” White explained, adding the hours of operation eventually will be re-evaluated based on call volume and call times.

“If we can justify a 12-hour service or even a 24-hour service, they’ll permit us to operate that way, but we’ll have to meet certain guidelines,” he stressed.

The new ambulance service has a newly-renovated building (the First Response building) to operate out of and two vehicles—one primary and a back-up.

“The building has been totally renovated inside and out to meet ambulance act standards,” White said, noting the Ministry of Health owns the vehicles.

“We operate and maintain them,” he added. “We make sure they’re up to standards, that they are running properly, fully stocked, and ready for patient care.”

White said the EMS has received about a half-dozen calls since becoming operational earlier this month. They are anticipating anywhere from 100-200 calls a year.

They currently employ two full-time medics and two part-time.

“We’ve had a pretty positive response,” White continued. “People have come by to see the base. When we opened, people didn’t even realize we were open already.

“A couple of the calls we had, they were surprised we were there in two minutes, instead of waiting the usual 20 minutes for the Sioux Narrows ambulance to arrive.”

White also noted the ambulance doesn’t look like a typical one. It’s decked out in native colours and with native designs. Even the word “ambulance” is spelled in Ojibway.

“It’s pretty neat. Everybody is really excited,” he enthused, adding Allan White, director of health services for Naotkamegwanning, is planning to have a grand opening celebration in February, including a big community feast.

Naotkamegwanning EMS is dispatched out of the Kenora Central Ambulance Communication Centre, so the emergency line stays the same.

The business line is 1-807-226-2277.

(Fort Frances Times)

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