NAT vans free up more ground ambulance resources

Two wheelchair-accessible vans increase access to the service

LETHBRIDGE – Ground ambulance resources have been freed up with the introduction of non-ambulance transfer (NAT) vans in the South Zone of Alberta Health Services (AHS).

The NAT vans – used to transfer medically stable patients between health care facilities for specialist consults, diagnostics and procedures – went into operation in January 2013 and have been used for more than 900 transfers to date. That represents more than 10 per cent of the annual 7,200 patient transfers performed by Emergency Medical Services (EMS) in the South Zone.

The two NAT vans based in Raymond made 573 transfers between January 2013 and May 2014. Most of the transfers were from Raymond, Fort Macleod, Milk River, Taber and Cardston into Lethbridge.

The two vans based in Brooks made 349 trips between March 2013 and May 2014, mostly between Brooks, Bassano and Medicine Hat.

NAT van usage in the South Zone increased following the addition late last year of two wheelchair-accessible vans, which brings the fleet number to four. Raymond and Brooks each have one wheelchair-accessible NAT van.

“Last year we saw improved emergency ambulance coverage in rural areas in the South Zone and the NAT vans played a key role in this improvement,” says Sandy Halldorson, Executive Director of EMS for AHS South Zone.

“By using NAT vans for the scheduled transportation of medically stable patients between facilities, we’re keeping more ground ambulance crews in their communities so they can respond to unscheduled, urgent situations that require their immediate attention and expertise.

“Mobility is a big issue for some of our patients,” adds Halldorson. “Before the wheelchair-accessible NAT vans entered service, patients in wheelchairs would have to be transferred on stretchers in ground ambulances.”

The addition of the wheelchair accessible vans creates more flexibility, says Milk River EMT Ron Lewison.

“Now we have the ability to transport those patients in a NAT van, which frees up more ground ambulance resources and improves the comfort of our patients.”

The NAT vans are staffed by emergency medical responders and are equipped with automated electronic defibrillators, first-aid kits, and sophisticated GPS and communications equipment. The vans can accommodate up to four seated passengers, or two passengers in wheelchairs. Patients must be medically stable, capable of sitting and not require oxygen or an IV.

There are now 20 NAT vans in service across Alberta.

Alberta Health Services is the provincial health authority responsible for planning and delivering health supports and services for more than four million adults and children living in Alberta. Its mission is to provide a patient-focused, quality health system that is accessible and sustainable for all Albertans.