Still waiting for “earliest possible opportunity” to regulate patient transfer

“This is a case where the wheels are literally falling off the bus.” – Andre Marin, Toronto Star, July 16, 2013

Back in June 2011 the Ontario government promised legislation “at the earliest opportunity” to regulate the private patient transfer industry.

The first real promise of that election campaign, Health Minister Deb Matthews was prompt in her reaction to a scathing report by the Ontario Ombudsman that suggested taking a taxi was far safer than climbing aboard one of the province’s privatized patient transfer vehicles.

We’ve all seen these vehicles. They look like ambulances. Some have emergency lights just like real ambulances. The drivers often dress like paramedics. But that doesn’t mean they are.

These vehicles are used regularly by hospitals for non-urgent patient transfers, raising questions about whether our public hospitals are practicing due diligence as contractors. Who is responsible when these vehicles leave the hospital property and hit the road?

The Ombudsman’s report had detailed major problems with vehicle maintenance, staff training and infection control aboard these trucks. Quite literally some of these “beater” vehicles had parts falling off of them.

This July, still waiting for action by Queen’s Park, Andre Marin told the media that it was just a matter of time before there is a major catastrophe.

“Why did the government not act?” he asked during the press conference.

Well first there was the election. Then there was the proroguing of the provincial parliament. And then?

Of course legislation would have to be jointly introduced by the MOHLTC and the Ministry of Transportation. At the time of the 2011 promise the Minister of Transportation was none other than our present Premier, Kathleen Wynne. Somewhere en route to becoming Premier this issue obviously fell off her priority agenda.

This summer Deb Matthews gave us a new timetable: by the summer of 2014 legislation would be in place to regulate the industry. That came out only as a result of the Ombudsman again raising the issue as part of his annual report released in July.

Three years later is “at the earliest opportunity?”

When Matthews promised legislation, she also said that consultation would first have to take place with the medical transportation service industry, health care providers and the public.

While we are told that the industry has in fact been consulted, we haven’t heard much more about health care providers and the public.

Perhaps we should be grateful that we have less than a year to go given this issue has been around since 1995. That’s a long time for patients to raise concerns without a response that amounted to anything more than promises of next year.

Marin said in 2011 he would keep close watch on the next legislative session to make sure government follows through on their promise. He should keep on watching.

In the meantime, Spectrum Health Care announced September 25 it has purchased the assets of the biggest private transfer company in the province. OPT filed for bankruptcy back in April claiming part of its woes had to do with health care procurement policies that stressed low-cost above everything else. That made it difficult for them to compete and maintain standards. Documents showed that the company had $4.7 million in liabilities and assets of less than $900,000.

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