Port Elliot's Dave Mooney gives first hand account of the challenges of being an emergency responder as a Paramedic

Paramedic Dave Mooney calls for more funding on the Fleurieu Peninsula to assist with emergencies.
Paramedic Dave Mooney calls for more funding on the Fleurieu Peninsula to assist with emergencies.

In the 2021-22 State Budget the SA Ambulance Service (SAAS) will receive $45.1 million over the next four years and the Southern Fleurieu Health Service will have an additional eight beds in its Emergency Department.

The funds will cater for 74 Paramedics, 50 for metropolitan areas and 24 for Whyalla, Port Augusta and Ceduna, but does not provide any extra ambulances for regional areas.

Ambulance ramping and lack of hospital beds has placed a lot of stress on the health department, communities and paramedics, who are the first responders to many emergencies.

Dave Mooney and partner Annabelle Miller are paramedics who live in Port Elliot and understand the challenges faced on a daily basis.

Dave said the funding commitments by the State Government for the ambulance service was one very small step in the right direction for metropolitan Adelaide.

"But it only equates to two to three extra ambulances for all of Adelaide. There are no additional ambulances funded for regional areas and nothing at all for the Fleurieu Peninsula, which has had significant population growth in recent years," Dave said.

"The mental strain it takes on you and the emotional strain of having to say sorry and having to explain to patients why an Ambulance wasn't able to arrive in an appropriate time to help them takes its toll."

However, Dave said the role of a paramedic in the community was very rewarding and it was "one of the best jobs in the world".

"You get the opportunity to meet new people every day and get to assist people when they are most vulnerable. We effectively save lives," he said.

The evolution of tasks associated with being a paramedic has been motivation for Dave over the past three years.

"We save lives, provide social work counselling and help navigate where the most appropriate health care is available. It is far reaching and very rewarding," Dave said.

"We are first responders to accidents or any incident that requires a first response and it is a big challenge for people to get an ambulance. There are times when we cannot respond the way we like.

"Hospitals are becoming back logged due to not enough beds being available and this causes us to ramp and have a bottle neck effect at emergency departments. We become ramped with patients for an unknown amount of hours."

Specifically on the Fleurieu Peninsula, Victor Harbor has only one dedicated emergency response ambulance staffed by two paramedics and one Regional Medical Transport Service with one paramedic and one ambulance officer.

"After midnight the Fleurieu Peninsula has only one staffed paramedic ambulance. This is not enough. We need another ambulance station, as Goolwa and Yankalilla should become paid paramedic stations," Dave said.

Goolwa and Yankalilla are currently volunteer stations.

"I was a volunteer before I started as a paramedic, so I know what a fantastic job they do and the challenges they are faced with," he said.

Dave also gives a first hand account of the issues faced in the community and by ambulance crews on a regular basis.

"Around midnight on June 12, a nearby neighbour came to my house knowing my partner and I were both off-duty paramedics. They were distressed as someone was having a mental health crisis.

"Due to ramping at Flinders the only ambulance available to attend was a Goolwa Volunteer crew who had just finished being ramped at Flinders themselves. The patient was extremely unwell and required specialist care that only a paramedic crew would have been able to provide.

"Greater treatment was needed for this patient due to the crisis they were suffering. Due to no other paramedic staffed ambulances being available the volunteer crew were forced to transport the patient with the assistance of SAPOL, restrained, to hospital. This could have been achieved in a much safer manner for the patient and the crew (and it would have freed up the SAPOL crew) if a paramedic staffed ambulance were available to treat and transport this patient.

"We feel that the community is at risk along the Fleurieu and we need more paramedic staffed ambulances."

Member for Finniss David Basham.

Member for Finniss David Basham.

Member for Finniss David Basham said the government was committed to deliver the very best care to all South Australians.

"That's why we are investing in regional areas across the state, like the Fleurieu Peninsula," Mr Basham said.

"We have added many new paramedics to our roads in recent years. Just recently, we announced that we had secured land for a new $3.9 million ambulance station at Strathalbyn.

"We know that the Fleurieu Peninsula is booming and we need to ensure that our hard-working ambos have enough room to accommodate future increases in staff, along with the garaging for more operational vehicles. That's why we are building what matters.

"We know that the region has an ageing population - the new station will not only support SAAS in its current service delivery, but will provide greater operational flexibility in the future.

"We recognise that SAAS has been experiencing increased demand for ambulances in the Victor Harbor area over the last few years. Much of this workload increase has been associated with urgent emergency calls and increased medical transfer workload.

"I would like to assure you SAAS actively reviews the need for additional resources in country locations and is working closely with Local Health Networks and primary health care providers to identify opportunities for broader service delivery opportunities."

SAAS is also piloting the introduction of single responder units in the South Coast region. Community Paramedics are working with Residential Aged Care Facilities within the Alexandrina, Victor Harbor and Yankalilla Council areas and reports are that the pilot is going well.

Mr Basham said SAAS operates on a dynamic deployment model, meaning ambulances were not ring-fenced to certain stations and that the closest ambulance was dispatched to those in need.

"Communities and their surrounds work collectively to provide ambulance coverage - this modelling is kept under constant review to ensure areas are adequately resourced," he said.

"As I mentioned, there is a new multi-million dollar build underway to facilitate any future demand.

"Our volunteers, paramedics and RMTS teams, who provide regional coverage in Yankalilla and beyond (all the way to Kangaroo Island), do a fantastic job keeping our communities safe and recruiting new members."

Mr Basham said Victor Harbor was not immune from ramping "occasionally", and the government continued to work to ensure seamless patient flow.

"We are expanding the Emergency Department (ED) at the Southern Fleurieu Health Service in Victor Harbor from six to 14 treatment spaces, to be completed in 2023. The upgrade will also include a new Renal Department. Another vital health service, available locally to avoid the need to travel," he said.

"We are adding more than 140 treatment spaces to hospital EDs across metro Adelaide and peri-urban areas as part of a $1 billion health infrastructure program. In particular relevance to the Fleurieu Peninsula, Flinders Medical Centre this year will open an additional 30 ED beds easing pressure across the south.

"South Australia is not alone in experiencing high levels of emergency department presentations in recent months. During the COVID-19 pandemic, hospitals throughout the nation have experienced increased pressure. Unfortunately, ramping and long waits for ambulances have been experienced in Queensland, Western Australia, Tasmania, Victoria and New South Wales."

This story Stress of a Paramedic first appeared on The Times.

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