After an April 30 crash sidelined the only ambulance operated by First Nations Paramedics (FNP), Quebec’s Indigenous affairs ministry has stepped in to ensure the company can continue to provide prehospital emergency care in Kanesatake.
The assistance is more than welcome, according to Robert Bonspiel, president and director general of FNP, but he believes it’s only the first step toward ensuring the community has access to equitable prehospital care.
“What they’ve done is basically put a bandage on the problem, but we’re still hemorrhaging,” said Bonspiel.
He is particularly concerned that FNP is on what is known as a faction or 7/14 schedule. This means paramedics await emergencies from a remote location and travel to the ambulance when a call comes in, adding minutes to their response time.
Meanwhile, Services Préhospitaliers Laurentides-Lanaudière (SPLL), a bigger company that services the region in which Kanesatake is situated, is on an hourly schedule, meaning paramedics are already in the ambulance when a call comes in. As a result, it is often called upon when there is an emergency in Kanesatake, even if FNP is closer.
“We believe that it’s not equitable treatment. It’s a discriminatory approach, and we’ve made that known now,” said Bonspiel.
On top of the provision of a secondary vehicle - assistance worth about $35,000, according to the ministry - Bonspiel said he has been assured by Indigenous affairs that the health ministry will furnish the permit necessary to allow the company to operate it.
The used vehicle will become the primary ambulance, while the one currently in repairs will become the secondary vehicle.
“Sometimes it’s just regular (maintenance),” said Bonspiel. “The ambulance has to go and have a tire change, has to have an oil change. It has a cracked windshield and has to be out of service to be able to be fixed.”
Whenever this happens, the secondary vehicle would be deployed. Bonspiel said FNP expects to add a brand-new ambulance within two years.
It’s the first time the company has received support from the province’s Indigenous affairs ministry. Bonspiel said Ian Lafrenière, the minister responsible for Indigenous affairs, has been in frequent contact with him lately.
“Minister Lafrenière wanted to ensure the continuity of ambulance services in Kanesatake,” said ministry spokesperson Myrian Marotte. The support provided by the ministry will enable FNP to avoid service interruptions, she said.
“As for other changes, such as an hourly schedule instead of a faction schedule, the (health ministry) is in the process of analyzing the various requests for all regions of Quebec,” she added.
Bonspiel argues that the availability of ambulance services is a major issue for Indigenous communities.
“We’re hoping this brings to the forefront the issue that affects all First Nations communities across Quebec - not only Kanesatake, and not only First Nations Paramedics,” said Bonspiel.
“We’re going to try and build on this to inform the public of the inequity that exists in prehospital care.”
Marcus Bankuti, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Eastern Door