The five upper-tier rural municipalities neighbouring the City of Ottawa are calling on the Province of Ontario, and particularly Premier Kathleen Wynne and Minister of Health and Long-Term Care, Dr. Eric Hoskins, to solve the apparent impasse regarding rural municipal land ambulance service resources being diverted to the City of Ottawa.
These five rural municipalities, being the County of Renfrew, the County of Lanark, the United Counties of Prescott and Russell, the United Counties of Leeds and Grenville, and the United Counties of Stormont, Dundas and Glengarry, have increasingly been challenged by issues pertaining to both the operations and financing of paramedic services to their communities.
Since the Province’s download of paramedic services in 2001, call volumes have continued to increase and costs have followed suit. While municipalities recognize the continued 50% funding from the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care, the pressure of increasing call volumes has required innovation from municipalities in order to optimize paramedic services and respond to the legislated performance response times outlined in the Ambulance Act.
“Our land ambulance services are facing significant challenges as a result of situations where the City of Ottawa has failed to meet its own required resources and respond to its own service demands,” stated Warden David Gordon, of the United Counties of Leeds and Grenville. “When our municipalities are required to assist and respond to calls outside of their communities – and increasingly within the City of Ottawa – they expose themselves to an increase in response times and a lack of appropriate resources back home, and therefore are unable to meet their commitments for their own residents, as set out in the Ambulance Act.”
The City of Ottawa’s deployment plans focus on its urban core as opposed to the rural, outlying areas within its periphery. As a result, the City relies on its neighbours to service its shortfalls: between June 2015 and June 2016, call volumes from neighbouring municipalities into the City of Ottawa increased by 60%, with the largest increases in service calls coming from Prescott and Russell (105%), Lanark (88%) and Renfrew (41%).
Furthermore, the City of Ottawa has maintained its refusal to reimburse its neighbors for services rendered, even though provincial legislation allows for such agreements between neighbouring municipalities. Several municipalities in Eastern Ontario have been successful in implementing cross-border arrangements for the provision of inter-municipal paramedic services. Other services require agreements for mutual aid support for abnormal emergency crises, such as disaster or a specifically defined number of calls. This type of practice is very functional and responsible.
“To require one municipality to respond on a regular and daily basis, outside its jurisdiction, creates a very dangerous situation for the responding municipality,” added Chris Lloyd, Paramedic Chief for Leeds and Grenville. “Resources quickly become depleted and the responding municipality is consequently unable to provide adequate services to its own residents because they are subsequently called to respond to other calls within the neighbouring jurisdiction.” The position of “seamlessness” taken by the Emergency Health Services Branch (EHSB) places an unfair burden on municipalities, both in the delivery of appropriate paramedic services and financial costs. Recent announcements from the City of Ottawa in regards to the hiring of 38 additional paramedics through 2018 will not solve the current impasse, but instead, will only serve to meet the City’s population growth within that time period.
“Beyond our legal requirement to respond, our municipalities are ready and willing, as good neighbours, to respond to emergency calls outside our jurisdictions. But when these calls come as a direct result of the City of Ottawa’s deployment plans, which favour its urban core – exposing its rural areas to prolonged response times with an explicit expectation of drawing in paramedic resources from neighbouring municipalities – this goes beyond reasonable expectations, and puts lives at risk within our own municipalities,” concluded Warden Gordon.
“The bottom line is that rural taxpayers should not be required to subsidize neighboring municipalities for the latter’s lack of vehicles and resources. Municipalities must be held accountable and not rely on their neighbours, unless in extenuating circumstances.”
The five rural Counties are therefore calling on the Province of Ontario to modify the definition of “seamlessness,” in order to meet the expectations of today’s delivery of paramedic services. In addition, municipalities should have the ability to recover the costs associated to service delivery outside their own jurisdictions – a condition that was once mandatory, but which was rendered optional by the Province in 2008.