New ambulance welcomed on Digby islands

Initiative helps island residents shave off travel time to nearest hospital

3 min read
An ambulance is parked outside of the Digby General Hospital emergency room.
caption An ambulance is parked outside Digby General Hospital's emergency department.
Hannah Veinot

Andy Moir, as an older adult, has seen the health-care system more than he would like to. 

He lives in Freeport, at the western tip of Long Island, a little over an hour drive, including a ferry ride, from the nearest hospital, Digby General. 

He recently underwent major heart surgery and has medical concerns like many island residents. 

For 25 years, Moir has run a monthly newsletter called Passages which covers events and issues in the community, including serious issues like health care. 

“I certainly know lots of people who have moved away from the islands because of health-care issues,” said Moir. “I would hate that.” 

For now, Moir feels healthy enough to be able to stay in Freeport. However, he said it’s possible he and his wife will have to consider leaving eventually. He said residents need assurances they can access care when they need it. 

For residents, a primary concern is getting an ambulance to the island to deal with an emergency. The trip each way can require taking one to two ferries and then a 40-minute drive to the hospital.  

“But that’s the best-case scenario, assuming the ambulance gets there right away,” said Moir. 

A new initiative from the province is aiming to alleviate the issue by stationing an ambulance and crew on the islands, located in Freeport. 

Moir says that at a meeting to announce the initiative it was explained that this “static model” means that when the ambulance is transporting a patient off the islands, the ambulance is not backfilled. The service has, however, already started to alleviate some of the fractures in the system. The move is part of an effort by Emergency Health Services (EHS) to deploy resources to better serve in remote communities.

Ambulance introduced in November

Gordon O’Neill is chief of the Westport Fire Department and has seen improvement since the initiative was introduced. 

An ambulance has been stationed in Freeport since Nov. 1.

“So far, the system’s working really good. So I’m hoping that it stays that way,” said O’Neill. 

Prior to this improvement, O’Neill said, the fire department was doing a job they were not properly trained to do – help people on scene and wait for an ambulance to arrive. If no ambulance was available, they had to start taking people to Digby. This was the situation until the placement of the ambulance.  

O’Neill says they didn’t have the right equipment to be hauling patients to the hospital and had been looking into buying an old ambulance before EHS stepped in. 

He says there are some kinks to be worked out with the new service. Before sending the ambulance out a nurse is required to approve the transport. When nurses are backed up, O’Neill says it can be over an hour before they respond.

“Hopefully they can get fixed up because when it comes to emergency, you don’t have time to wait for someone to call you back,” said O’Neill. 

O’Neill thinks that after they work out any initial issues, this will be a good long-term solution for the islands. 

Ambulances are being put into areas that “have very distinct and unique needs,” said Digby-Annapolis MLA Jill Balser.  

Balser said the lack of ambulance services was one of the first things residents asked her about when she was campaigning in 2021. She is pleased to see this initiative bring changes. 

“We knew that it would take time. And sometimes it’s not the direct thing that you can see, like, it can be really hard to describe some of that change. But we also know we’re putting things in place to … improve the system for years to come,” said Balser. 

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About the author

Hannah Veinot

Hannah is a fourth-year journalism student from Dartmouth. She enjoys storytelling and getting to meet interesting people.

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