A more rigorous discharge policy for Winnipeg hospital emergency department patients going home by taxicab is set to take effect next month.
Depending on a patient's needs, drivers may be required to enter the hospital ER to speak to a health provider and meet the patient before accepting the fare.
If need be -- and the patient agrees to it in advance -- drivers will also physically assist them right to their doorstep. Otherwise, cabbies will watch to ensure patients enter their building before driving away.
Drivers will then call their company's dispatch to advise the patient has made it safely inside the front door of their building. And the taxi company will pass that on to health authorities.
'Time to a cab driver is very, very important. They've got 12 hours to reach a certain amount of money that the owners expect from them. And if they don't do it, the driver loses his cab to drive'
The new taxi policy follows the deaths in late December of two men -- one aged 62, the other aged 78 -- discharged from Grace General Hospital. Both were driven home by taxicab, and both collapsed in the cold before making it into their homes.
The new policy was hammered out in a series of meetings this winter between the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority and the taxi industry.
"We're aiming for (implementation on) May 1," WRHA president and chief executive officer Arlene Wilgosh said Tuesday.
Wilgosh said the level of service provided by the driver will depend on what the medical professionals deem necessary.
"They'll do an assessment of each patient and then figure out what's needed. But the intent is to make sure the patient arrives inside their home safely," she said.
Implementation of the new protocol will take another month as city hospitals adopt a uniform procedure and staff are brought up to speed on it.
The WRHA and Manitoba Taxicab Board, which regulates the taxi industry, described the discussions leading up to the new protocol as cordial and productive on Tuesday.
The taxi companies themselves either refused to comment or did not immediately return phone calls.
"No comment until we're ready to launch," said a Unicity manager. "I'm sorry, I've been instructed not to give a comment."
Taxi industry observers wondered Tuesday whether drivers might shy away from taking calls to hospital emergency departments in light of the new policy.
"Time to a cab driver is very, very important. They've got 12 hours to reach a certain amount of money that the owners expect from them. And if they don't do it, the driver loses his cab to drive," said Val Maeren, a former driver and taxi inspector.
However, a WRHA spokeswoman said in an email there will be an incentive for drivers of needier patients being sent home by emergency departments -- they will be able to turn on their meters when they arrive at the hospital and before meeting the patient inside.
"In the (emergency department) they (the drivers) will receive the correct taxi chit from a health-care provider and will greet and/or assist the patient if the patient wants/consents to assistance," spokeswoman Bronwyn Penner-Holigroski said.
"The patient will need to sign the back of the taxi chit in order to indicate they've consented to physical assistance from the taxi driver. If they do not sign their consent, the driver will still take them home and watch for them to enter their building but will not offer physical assistance."
Once the driver has assured the patient is safely inside their front door, they will call their company dispatch, who will inform a hospital patient transfer service operated jointly by the WRHA and the Winnipeg Fire and Paramedic Service. If the driver has any issues or concerns to report, inter-facility transfer operators will contact the hospital emergency department for followup, Penner-Holigroski said.