Non-ambulances and the confusing look of healthcare privatization
When I see a vehicle that is trying hard to look like something that it clearly isn’t, I admit that the lessons of countless Saturday morning cartoons do weigh heavily on my imagination.
However, I kept my speculations about the ambulance-like vehicle that I saw this morning (July 14) in the westbound lane of West Broadway Avenue firmly grounded in reality. I assumed that it was a movie prop vehicle and why not? Here in “Hollywood North” it’s not unusual to see fake police cars, fire trucks and ambulances being driven to and from filming locations.
And the one that I saw this morning, while it basically had the right shape to be an ambulance, looked like a movie set fake in every other regard.
There were no proper logos for any organization, whether public or private and certainly nothing connecting it to the actual B.C. Ambulance Service.
The only visible markings were a two digit number (like a fleet designation) and the word “Lifesupport” (no space), which was on the hood and at least two sides of the box in a generic italic sans-serif typeface.
There was a very clip-arty caduceus (serpents wrapped around a staff), which is the standard emblem for anything medical. All this was arranged with some indifferent stripes and dashes, using a terrifically garish colour scheme of ultramarine blue and pumpkin orange.
However, on the driver’s side door of vehicle the caduceus crest contained a fairly unreadable line, which I interpreted to be “patient transfers”. And on the back of the vehicle, I caught a bit of a URL: www.aeromed.ca.
This, it seemed, was the vehicle of a private company in the business of facilitating the non-emergency transport of patients—apparently. The copy on the website for the company (actually named Lifesupport, was a bit windy:
“Lifesupport Patient Transport is a multi-divisional medical transport and emergency services enterprise, with diversified services, serving multiple sectors, including governments, hospitals and health authorities, oil and gas, energy the travel & health insurance and financial sectors. We apply extensive industry knowledge and ability, based on skill and experience, blended together with an intimate an active understanding of transport medicine, out of hospital medical care, aviation, transportation and worldwide medical logistics…”
Yada yada yada. Yup, a private company in the business of the non-emergency transport of patients.
I’ve never seen this Lifesupport company’s vehicles before but I am familiar with another company called Hospital Transfers, which is constantly ferrying patients to and from the Vancouver General Hospital grounds between Oak and Heather Street.
Hospital Transfers is an Abbotsford, B.C.-based company founded in 2003. It’s branding is graphically strong and features a big maroon and yellow checker pattern around the waist of the vehicle, usually against a lighter yellow vehicle colour.
The colours and the overall design used by this for-profit company is very similar to the markings on not-for-profit National Health Service ambulances in the UK, which, reading the company’s About page, appears to be a very deliberate (if ironic) choice:
“The professional and consistent approach to provide Non Emergency patient transfers by Hospital Transfers is based on a very successful model that was first implemented in London, England, to provide an intermediate level of transportation service for hospital patients. Medcially (sic) stable clients whose condition requires professional assistance and care – but does not require transport by Ambulance – yet requires properly equipped and more personalized and specialist transportation than a regular passenger vehicle.”
Ouch! Both of these companies desperately need someone to doctor their copy.
For better or worse, it’s all part of the ongoing privatization of public services in British Columbia. There must actually be a lot of money to be made in patient transfers if you can lock up enough of the business in a large enough health area in order to achieve real economy of scale.
But why the need for private companies? Doesn’t the B.C.government already enjoy the greatest possible economy of scale with its province-wide ambulance service. Is it purely the B.C. Liberal government’s ideology of privatization at all costs at work, or is it the case that private patient transfer operations are cheaper than the B.C. Ambulance Service because they make do with lower-paid and lower skilled non-union employees? Click the images to enlarge them.