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After moving ambulance dispatchers, Eastern Health code red alerts sometimes failed to reach them due to human error

Two Eastern Health ambulances at the Health Sciences Centre’s emergency entrance on Monday morning.
Two Eastern Health ambulances at the Health Sciences Centre’s emergency entrance. - Joe Gibbons file photo/The Telegram
ST. JOHN'S, N.L. —

When medical dispatchers relocated and could no longer hear code red fire alarms at the Health Sciences Centre, they weren’t always being tipped off and they became concerned that patients arriving aboard ambulances could be affected by them not being in the loop.

“When a red alert (fire alarm) comes in for either (the Health Sciences Centre) or (St. Clare’s) and access to the hospital is restricted, it would be nice if we could get a call,” Eastern Health medical communications centre operations manager Ian Winter wrote to regional protection services in July, according to emails released as part of a Telegram access to information request related to paramedic concerns.

“This would give us the ability to divert any inbound ambulances, heading to the (emergency room) to an alternate facility. When we do not get the call (and) crews often are prevented from entering the ER with a patient, this could affect patient care. Occasionally, we do get a call from (the Health Sciences Centre's) security, but it is inconsistent. Any thoughts or suggestions?”

“Site security on both sites are directed to contact paramedicine dispatch if an emergency code is activated that affects patient flow,” regional protection services co-ordinator Nix George replied. “I will resend this directive to them. There is no other tools or technology in place that can talk to dispatch directly and skip human error currently. We can assign a contact responsibility to ER staff, but you will have the same result.”

According to a spokeswoman for Eastern Health, the situation was rectified once it was recognized as an issue.

The medical communications centre was previously located at the Health Sciences Centre before it was relocated to its current location at the Dr. L.A. Miller Centre, which is when the problem arose, as medical communications staff were previously aware of all emergency codes called at the main hospital because they could hear them.

Eastern Health said a patient would not be turned away from the emergency room during a code red, except in a situation where fire was in the immediate area of the emergency room.

Clinical consultation with the attending fire department personnel would determine if medical services could be delivered safely, the spokeswoman said.

In the unlikely event that code red alarms go off at both hospitals — St. Clare’s and the Health Sciences Centre — there is a contingency plan for diversion of incoming ambulances.
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