Obituary: Dr. Justin Maloney was father of 911 in Ottawa

“He had a vision and he had the tenacity and the wherewithal to keep it going right to the very end and came out on top.”

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Tributes poured in Wednesday for Dr. Justin Maloney, the Ottawa emergency physician who is considered the father of paramedicine and the 911 emergency call system in the city.

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Maloney, 74, died this week.

A veteran emergency physician with The Ottawa Hospital, Maloney played a pivotal role in bringing both a paramedic program and the 911 system to the national capital.

The initiative “made a huge difference to pre-hospital care and for the community at large” said Dr. Garth Dickinson, a retired emergency physician and former colleague at The Ottawa Hospital. It meant patients were in much better shape when they arrived at the hospital, he added.

On Twitter, former colleagues and many others paid their respects to the man described by Perth emergency physician Dr. Alan Drummond as “a veritable giant in Canadian emergency medicine.”

“It you’ve ever dialed 911 in Ottawa, you have Dr. Justin Maloney to thank,” CHEO head Alex Munter tweeted.

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“Ottawa is a healthier place because of his work,” tweeted Carol Anne Meehan, Ottawa councillor for Gloucester-South Nepean.

Maloney, who graduated from the University of Ottawa in 1971, received numerous honours during his long career as an emergency physician. Among them was a Meritorious Service Cross awarded in 2017 by then Governor General Julie Payette for his role in improving life-saving skills and services by teaching high school students cardiopulmonary resuscitation. He co-founded the Advanced Coronary Treatment Foundation, which taught millions of high school students CPR.

Steve Hallam, past-president of what used to be the Ottawa-Carleton Paramedic Association, helped lobby alongside Maloney for Ottawa’s 911 system and was one of 12 people in the first class of advanced care paramedics in the city once the program began.

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“I can’t think of too many people who would have been capable of doing what he had done for the City of Ottawa as far as paramedics are concerned,” Hallam said.

“He had a vision and he had the tenacity and the wherewithal to keep it going right to the very end and came out on top.”

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Hallam was an ambulance attendant in the “dinosaur” days before the advanced paramedic system came to the city. The difference between those days and what paramedics can do now is “monumental” and has saved lives, Hallam said.

Getting bringing that system in place was not easy.

Before the paramedic program could begin, the city needed a 911 service.

In a 2018 interview with the Citizen’s Bruce Deachman, Maloney said one of the biggest difficulties of getting a 911 system in place was convincing people there was a problem that needed fixing.

“I did a survey at the Ottawa General one week, asking people, ‘If you had to call for an emergency right now, would you know what number to call?’ and fewer than five per cent of people knew who to call.”

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Maloney knew that you couldn’t have a functioning full paramedic program without quick access to the system.

“If someone’s in cardiac arrest or serious illness for a long time before an ambulance arrives, even the best paramedics or cardiac surgeons aren’t going to save their life,” he said.

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Hallam was among those handing out leaflets alongside Maloney in an effort to lobby for a 911 system and he spent time following him in the emergency department as the paramedic program began.

“What struck me about Justin was how quiet and humble he was and composed, no matter what the situation.”

The achievements spearheaded by Maloney have changed the city and changed lives, Hallam said.

Drummond said he was inspired by Maloney to play a role in the development of the 911 system in Lanark County.

“We take this stuff for granted, but it only came through hard work and dedication and vision and that is what Justin had.”

A few years ago, Maloney was presented with an award for lifetime clinical excellence by the Canadian Association of Emergency Physicians.

“For me, he is what every emergency physician should be: good in the ER, but always with one eye on what the interface between the community and the department,” Drummond said. “He just got on with it, seeking nothing other than improvement in the system of care.”

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