An expatriate couple who fell in love with scenic Balestrand and bought a home there on the Sognefjord has painfully discovered a major disadvantage of living in the midst of mountains and fjords: Balestrand lacks an ambulance. Now they’re joining calls for better emergency response, by sharing their own experience in an open letter and through the local media.
Balestrand attracts thousands of tourists every year, yet local newspaper Sogn Avis reported that the town known for its large historic hotel and stunning landscapes hasn’t had an ambulance based in the town for more than a year. Katharina von Oltersdorff-Kalettka and James Chilton found that out when a visiting relative, age 13, dislocated his knee and had to wait in pain for more than an hour until help arrived.
That’s because the nearest ambulance was in Høyanger, around 50 kilometers away on winding mountain roads.
The entire county of Sogn og Fjordane scored poorly on an overview of average emergency response times reported by Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) earlier this summer.
The couple has since written an open letter about their experience, and stories about the long wait for help have appeared in Sogn Avis and Bergens Tidende. A new ambulance plan is due to be proposed in January but it remains unclear whether relief is in sight. “I don’t know whether we can have very high expectations even though the Parliament says help should arrive within 25 minutes,” Erland Fagermoen, leader of a local group lobbying for an ambulance to be based back in Balestrand.
Here follows the couple’s open letter on the issue:
It’s been more than three years since we decided to buy a house just outside Balestrand in Norway. Not the obvious region for a British citizen to own a property, but we fell in love with the place the first moment we stepped onto the veranda of the yellow wooden house by Sværefjorden which we later called “Villa Sognefjord.”
Balestrand is for both of us one of the most spectacular places on earth, with beauty around every corner. Not only is the region blessed with natural beauty, but also with people who make it a pleasure to be there. They are there to help you when help is needed, they go out of their way and have not forgotten the sense of community and family that other places seem to lack. Our support for this community and for the friends we have made is therefore an important and heartfelt issue for us.
The Norwegian health system takes pride in its modernity and accessibility in all regions. Hence it is a sad moment when a 13-year-old boy, who dislocated his knee cap while playing football with his father, has to wait for more than an hour for an ambulance to arrive at the school playground where the accident occurred. As he was in excruciating pain and could not move at all, our family and our lovely neighbours tried to keep him warm as he was cooling down on the concrete floor of the school ground, while the ambulance had to come all the way from Høyanger, 50 kilometers away, to then take him to hospital in Førde.
All of the doctors and nurses in Førde, and the ambulance staff from Høyanger, were absolutely fantastic and helped as best as they possibly could. We are entirely grateful to all of them, and especially to our neighbours who even joined our family to act as translators in the hospital on a Sunday at midnight.
We were all lucky, that this had not happened in cold or rain or that it was not a life-threatening injury. His Mum and Dad however had to endure more than the acceptable time of helplessness, trying to comfort their son as best as they could. So they waited patiently until the ambulance arrived and their son was then finally in Førde, two-and-a-half hours after the ambulance had been called.
We think that no family and no child should ever be in a situation like ours, especially not in one of the richest countries in the world with a well-equipped health system. The decision to no longer have an ambulance in world-famous Balestrand is therefore morally unacceptable.
Norway takes pride in Balestrand and its history, with thousands of tourists visiting it every year. The population is spread over a vast region with a kindergarten and school more than 20 kilometers away from the town center. We are clearly not in a situation to change things round but we are willing to make this intolerable situation public and try to make the decision-makers understand that they are playing with the lives of children, friends and families.
We are speaking in the name of all families who already were in similar or worse situations than ours, residents who are already fighting for this situation to change, former and future tourists of Balestrand and all people that love this place like we do. This situation needs to change back to where it has always been
Balestrand needs a local ambulance.
Katharina von Oltersdorff- Kalettka and James Chilton