Community COVID-19 Featured

River John woman raising concerns about medical response time following father’s death

Grace Joudrey-Clough misses her father’s sense of humour and the patience he showed with her two sons.

“I miss a lot of things,” said Joudrey-Clough about her father, Teddy Joudrey, who died at home on Dec. 21 from a heart attack. He was 69. During his final moments, he called his daughter for help.

“He was the only family I had left. I knew he loved me. I always knew that. I always knew he was there for me in any way, shape or form.”

It was around 7:45 p.m., four days before Christmas, when Joudrey called his daughter from his home in River John. She was already at work in Pictou for a back shift and answered her cell phone.

“He couldn’t breathe. He was obviously in distress.”

Keeping her father on her cell phone, Joudrey-Clough used the phone at work to call 911. She told the dispatcher about her father being on the other phone and needing help. With paramedics being dispatched, Joudrey-Clough says she was told to call them back if “anything changed.”

“After about 15 or 20 minutes, he stopped, I couldn’t hear anything anymore,” said Joudrey-Clough.

Still staying on her cell phone, Joudrey-Clough says she called both a friend and aunt and uncle who all live close to Joudrey.

“I didn’t want to go too far and lose the line,” said Joudrey’s daughter. “They made it to the house after he went silent.”

Her family members say it was about 45 minutes for paramedics to arrive after her call for help.

Joudrey lives about two minutes from the River John Fire Department and no firefighters were dispatched.

“My main concern is that there are first responders that live close by that could’ve helped,” she said, adding members of the fire department responded to the home in the past when her mother had medical issues.

“There are first responders around the area that are able to go and possibly save a life, but it’s my understanding they’re not able to do so now without proper training. With the ambulance situation right now, people could be waiting a long time. It could be minutes with first responders versus waiting for EHS.”

Joudrey-Clough says the outcome of her father’s situation may not have been any different if first responders attended the call, “but I like to think every effort was made.”

EHS Medical First Responder (MFR) program

Charbel Daniel, senior manager of system support at EHS Operations, said the decision was made at the onset of the pandemic to “restrict and modify the response model” for the Medical First Responder program.

That meant those trained under the program only responded to motor vehicle collisions and difficult extrication, along with their fire calls.

“This was a difficult decision but it was made out of caution for responders’ safety in order to protect them and minimize potential exposure of not only our responders, but Nova Scotians as well,” Daniel said during a briefing on Feb. 18 by EHS Operations.

In September 2020, EHS began phasing the MFR program back online with responding agencies. Agencies train for COVID-19 protocols, including proper fitting of personal protective equipment.

The three-phase approach saw 35 agencies with the highest cardiac arrest calls finish training in December, with another 58 agencies (those furthest from an ambulance base) currently taking their training courses. Phase two is to be complete by April 15. Another 126 agencies, including River John, are to complete their training by the end of October.

“We’re working hard to bring all the agencies back online and to do so in an efficient and safe manner,” said Daniel. “As we continue to do this, if you dial 911, paramedics will still be responding regardless of the actual status of the Medical First Responder program.”

Ambulance availability

Over the last few years, the International Union of Operating Engineers (IUOE) Local 727 has been running a #CodeCritical campaign, to highlight issues paramedics in the province face. For the last two weeks, the IUOE Local 727 has been using social media to share where ambulance shortages or delays are.

Phil Stewart, acting senior manager of provincial operations at EHS Operations, says ambulance availability is a “complex issue.”

He says factors include: staffing complements, weather, and health system issues such as offload delay and hospital closures.

“Our EHS system expands and contracts based on call volumes to optimize coverage for all in our province,” he said, also acknowledging certain circumstances may make response times longer in particular areas.

Of the factors that affect ambulance availability in the province, Stewart says only a few are within EHS Operations’ control that would help improve the situation.

He says the pandemic and the restrictions it’s brought around travelling and gathering “has certainly affected our ability to bring in paramedics to our system,” but they’re navigating those challenges now.

“We’re set to soon welcome 20 new paramedics to our workforce, so those efforts will continue,” he said. “Our deployment plan that sees ambulances move around the province is under constant internal scrutiny to make sure it’s as efficient as it can be and it is monitored minute by minute in our medical communications centre by our deployment teams to make sure coverage is optimized,” he said.

Justen, left, and Ryan Clough with their grandfather, Teddy Joudrey, two years ago. The grandsons, now 10 and 13, lost their grandfather just before Christmas. The 69-year-old died of a heart attack. (Grace Joudrey-Clough photo)