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Wednesday 16 October 2019
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Editorial

Tobago’s ambulance woes

WE CAN make no judgment in relation to the complaints raised by the family of Jamila Jordon, an expecting mother who died in Tobago after reportedly suffering a seizure. But we urge the authorities to take steps to improve the ambulance system in Tobago and to take a closer look at the facts.

Jordan’s common-law husband Anderson Graham has made several complaints. Firstly, he has indicated an ambulance took about 40 minutes to arrive. Secondly, he has detailed how, by his account, an operator told him to hold on, that there was no ambulance, and paid undue attention to protocol as the clock ticked. Thirdly, he stated he had to make more than one call.

In response to Graham’s claims, Sheldon Cyrus, the chief executive officer of the Tobago Regional Health Authority (TRHA), saw it fit to request a report into the matter. This was the correct thing to do. But according to Cyrus, the report gave an account provided by the manager of the ambulance service. That manager stated when the ambulance was dispatched it was within “normal” time parameters.

“His notes suggest there was not that length of time as is being claimed,” Cyrus said.

The TRHA would do well to interrogate these facts further for several reasons. Firstly, if Graham’s account is sound, we must question whether the notes of the ambulance manager reflect the length of time after the first or second call. Secondly, because there is an apparent conflict between both accounts, and because each party has a vested interest in this matter, further fact-finding techniques need to be applied.

Graham’s complaint of undue attention to protocol raises questions. Obviously, dispatchers need sufficient information for emergency personnel to respond appropriately. Yet, Graham’s complaint betrays a degree of frustration suggesting something went amiss. Operators need to be trained to diffuse situations and to handle people who are under high stress. Are our operators so qualified?

All of this comes in the context of disclosures made, earlier this year before a Parliament committee, over the ambulance fleet in Tobago. Officials at the TRHA in January told Parliament a fleet of 14 was needed. Yet there were only eight: six at Parlatuvier, Charlotteville, Delaford, Lowlands, Plymouth and Scarborough, and two in reserve.

While Tobago is a small island, it has a mountainous terrain and is famous for road conditions that are not always the easiest to navigate. The island aspires to be a tourism hub. Given all of these factors, a response time of 40 minutes would be inadequate. The TRHA should use the Jordon case to satisfy itself that the system is working as it should. If increasing stock will improve efficiency, this must be pursued.

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