Tatum Worthen said her mother Lorraine was doing dishes on Sunday when she had a medical emergency.
“When she bent down to put a pot away, she got a sharp pain in her head and her eyes started pulsating,” Worthen said. “She then felt really funny and went to sit down, and my father started to notice that she was starting to drool and act weird, so he phoned me.”
Worthen, a licensed practical nurse, rushed over and noticed her mother had severe right-sided weakness and her face was starting to droop – telltale signs of a stroke.
She drove her mother to the hospital, where the nurses also believed Lorraine was having a stroke. She needed to get a CT scan to confirm it was a stroke before being administered stroke medication.
“You don’t want to give a clot-busting drug to someone having a brain bleed (instead of a stroke), obviously, because that’s just going to be a nightmare,” Worthen explained.
While Grand Manan Island does have a hospital and provides general X-ray services, the facility does not have CT equipment or resources for high-acuity cases. In those cases, patients need to be transported to New Brunswick’s mainland. However, that can be a challenge due to a lack of air ambulance services.
The island has been without its previous service since late last year when Atlantic Charters grounded its medevac service due to new Transport Canada regulations around the number of hours that pilots could fly.
The company has been in negotiations with EM/ANB (Extra Mural/Ambulance New Brunswick) over a contract since.
Workers at the hospital tried to arrange for a plane to transport Lorraine to Saint John, but at the time it was busy looking for two fishermen who were lost at sea.
Worthen said an EHS helicopter from Nova Scotia ended up picking up her mother and taking her to Saint John – but by then she was no longer able to get medication for the stroke.
The “clot-busting” drugs used for a stroke need to be administered within four hours in order to be effective, she said.
“By the time they got her loaded in and got her here, got her CT confirmed, her four hours were up,” said Worthen, speaking to Global News outside the Saint John hospital where her mother is receiving care.
Fortunately, she said, her mother is recovering “really well,” which is “nothing short of a miracle” – though she said she still has a long road to recovery ahead of her.
Department of Health spokesperson Sean Hatchard said in a statement that “discussions in relation to air medevac needs on Grand Manan are ongoing.”
“In the meantime, all previously communicated plans to ensure safe evacuation by air from Grand Manan remain in place,” he said.
Hatchard said when an air transfer is required, New Brunswick’s critical care air ambulance continues to respond to Grand Manan.
If the air ambulance response isn’t timely — “for example, due to weather conditions or other missions” — EHS LifeFlight out of Halifax and the Canadian Forces Joint Rescue Coordination Centre helicopter out of Greenwood can assist as backup.
EHS in Nova Scotia confirmed it was dispatched to Grand Manan over the weekend, representing its first mission to Grand Manan this year. There were no EHS trips to Grand Manan in 2022. The JRCC said it made two trips to Grand Manan since December 2022, one in December and one in March.
Christianna Williston, a spokesperson for Medavie Health Services, which manages Ambulance New Brunswick, said they can’t comment on specific patient details but confirmed they assisted with the response on Sunday.
In an email Wednesday, Williston said ANB received a request from the Grand Manan Hospital for a critical care air ambulance transport at 12:53 p.m. “and the EHS LifeFlight critical care team was available and dispatched immediately.”
“Our typical air ambulance response time, from the time a request is received to our arrival at Grand Manan, is 1 hour and 40 minutes. In this case, EHS LifeFlight arrived on Grand Manan 1 hour and 41 minutes after the request was received – very much in line with a typical response,” said Williston.
She said EHS LifeFlight arrived at the Saint John Regional Hospital helipad at 3:30 p.m. and the patient was transported to the emergency department two minutes later.
“On average, ANB’s response time for critical care air ambulance transfers from time of request to arrival at tertiary care is approximately three hours for Grand Manan, which is the fastest response time for any other location in the province that qualifies for critical care air ambulance transfers,” said Williston.
“As always, our priority remains the health and safety of all our patients and we always strive to continue delivering the best in emergency medical services for all New Brunswickers.”
Medavie did not respond to follow-up questions Thursday about how long the average response time was when Atlantic Charters was providing air ambulance services, or how negotiations were going.
A spokesperson for Atlantic Charters did not respond to an email or phone calls requesting comment.
‘It’s affecting people’
Worthen is confident that had Atlantic Charters been flying, her mother would have gotten to Saint John in time to get the medication, since an EHS helicopter wouldn’t have had to travel the extra hour and 40 minutes from Nova Scotia.
“Definitely, the outcome could have been a lot, lot worse,” Worthen said. “But this needs to be resolved before the next person isn’t as fortunate and it ends terribly.”
Worthen, who said she’s concerned about the dwindling services available on the island, wants to see Ambulance NB and Atlantic Charters come to an agreement before someone else’s life is put at risk.
“They need to get that settled because it’s affecting people,” she said.
She said she has a message for those at the top.
“I would ask if they would be comfortable going to Grand Manan on vacation, knowing that if their loved one was to have a heart attack, a stroke, a car accident, and needed to get off (the island) in a timely manner, would they be comfortable coming there knowing that they don’t have access to that?” she said.
Worthen said she plans to hold a public protest next week after her mother is discharged from the hospital.