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CLAS needs a "lift"

The Cold Lake Ambulance Society (CLAS) is in need of a lift; a power lift that is.
CLAS board member Murray Gauthier explained the need for four power lift stretcher systems in their ambulances.

The Cold Lake Ambulance Society (CLAS) is in need of a lift; a power lift that is.

The local group is hoping area municipalities and industry leaders will step up and open their wallets to help them purchase Stryker Pro XT cots for their four ambulances.

“Alberta Health Services (AHS) provides funding to make sure we’re capable of providing an industry standard of care, so they basically give us what we need to operate at the minimum standards of what’s out there, however, they won’t fund us for power stretchers and power load installations,” exclaimed CLAS board member Murray Gauthier during Cold Lake council's meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 26.

The society is contracted by AHS to provide oversight and operation for mobile emergency medical services across a roughly 4,300-square kilometre region, which stretches into parts of Saskatchewan.

About four year ago, AHS received "a good chunk of funding" from the government, Gauthier said, which they used to outfit a number of their ambulances with power lift stretcher systems. However, contractors such as the CLAS were left to fend for themselves financially for the endeavour.

"Because we’re, what I call, a rental with AHS, they won’t fund us for this and they won’t support it,” added Gauthier.

During contract discussions with local ambulance attendants last year, CLAS was notified of their desire for these power lift cots, which would not only cut back on costs, but also injuries.

Murray explained, “Power lift cots will reduce the likelihood that a paramedic is forced to lift weights that exceed their personal capabilities. Right now, as it stands, if someone is over 250-lbs, even if they get them on the cot, they still have to phone in the other crew, now we have two crews on scene... With the power cots, if the person gets on the cot the attendants no longer have to lift it so we don’t have to call in another crew to get the patient in and out of the ambulance."

At the time, the board didn't have the money in-hand, but promised their staff they would begin looking for ways to pay for the upgrades.

“With the addition of this equipment, our fleet will improve the services we provide to the residents in our service area while protecting the strongest assets: our attendants,” Gauthier expressed.

Each system, which includes the stretcher, installation, maintenance, and small contingency fund, rings in at over $62,600.

In order to install one in each of their four ambulances, the society will need to raise $242,500.

“These expenses aren’t covered by our annual provincial funding. We recognize the great difference the upgrades could make for our staff, patients, and their families,” stated Gauthier.

The city is the society's first stop.

Gauthier said they will also be making the same pitch to the MD of Bonnyville, first nations communities, Hearts for Healthcare, and even Cenovus.

“In the end, we’re seeking the cost of one stretcher and unit from the City of Cold Lake,” noted Gauthier.

Even though the CLAS has an ambulance ordered and being built, they're hoping to secure funding for all four units before moving forward with installing the systems.

“This may take a year for us to do it, but if we could get the funding within the next three months that would be fabulous, because three weeks ago we ordered a brand new ambulance and they’ve started to build it, so we would really like to put the electric cot and stretcher with that ambulance,” Gauthier added.

In order to operate the new stretchers, staff will need to be trained, a cost the CLAS has already budgeted for.

“We have a little bit of contingency to train the staff. That cost we will take on," said Gauthier.

There are used power lift stretchers on the market, however, you're getting what you pay for, Gauthier explained.

“Used stretchers are considerable lower, however, the longevity of the stretchers themselves are downsized dramatically. That’s not really an option that the attendants or our board would really like because we would be replacing them in two years instead of five,” he expressed. “They say with six calls per day these could last up to 80 months. The more calls, obviously the numbers drop a little bit, but again, we have four ambulances and we do rotate them around and we figure we will be able to go for 80 months."

Once purchased, the CLAS will get saving in order to prepare to replace the systems in the future.

But for now, Gauthier stressed, they need a little help.

“The bigger centres and cities, there was funding given to them about three or four years ago, and they put it towards their ambulances, whereas societies, we didn’t get a cut of it. AHS ran out of money and said ‘we’re not giving it to you.’ That’s why we’re seeking the funds other ways,” he stated.

Council will consider the proposal to fund a power lift stretcher at a future meeting.