New ambulance ‘priority’
Officials working to reduce times when no local ambulances available to answer calls
Adding to the number of local ambulances is a priority, says Brant County Mayor Ron Eddy.
“We will shortly be starting our budget discussions for 2018, but it takes a while to have something like that approved, bought and on the road,” said Eddy.
“As far as I’m concerned it’s a priority item.
“We have to meet the calls, it’s as simple as that.”
Officials are working to deal with a serious problem where about twice a day no ambulances are available to respond to calls in Brantford and Brant County.
A Brant County staff report shows that, up to the end of August, there were 459 incidents – an average of nearly two a day — where there was no ambulance to go to an emergency call. That meant that dispatch had to rely on neighbouring communities to answer calls.
Ambulance officials and Eddy acknowledge the problem is severe but they say measures taken have caused the average to drop to under two calls a day in the past month.
The acquisition of one additional ambulance and the transfer of some paramedics to a day shift from a night one are the biggest reasons for the slight improvement, said Eddy.
With the new vehicle, there are now eight ambulances available during the day and four at night to cover an area of 130,000 people from three bases in Brantford and one in Paris.
Ambulance director Charles Longeway said he is optimistic that progress is being made.
“We’re quite pleased with the fact that it’s trending in a positive direction,” he said.
But the union representing paramedics on the front lines says those measures are too small to make any difference and drastic action is needed.
“They’ve had one month that the numbers went down a little bit, but really it’s not going to get any better,” said Jeff Graham, unit steward of Local 256 of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union.
“We’re entering into the cold and flu season which is the busiest time of the year for us. Last year’s numbers went through the roof. If the call volume goes up for this year’s season, it can only get worse.
“There will be more occasions when there will be no ambulances available. The worst case scenario is that people will die.”
The county and the city have been working on the problem for more than a year.
In 2016, Longeway and city councillors pushed to buy two new ambulances. But county councillors decided to buy none and instead hired an external consultant to examine the ambulance service.
The consultant’s report concluded the service is operating at overcapacity because call volumes are rising dramatically and too few resources are being added to keep the service sustainable.
Here are some details from the consultant report: • There were 1,192 times in 2016 in which no ambulances were available to respond to an emergency• It was the fifth consecutive year in which no ambulances were available more than 1,000 times. • To make up for the shortfall, outof-the-area ambulances were called 1,218 times. Ambulances have been sent from Hamilton, Norfolk County, Haldimand County, Six Nations and as far away as Kitchener-Waterloo• On those occasions, the average response time for an ambulance was 18 minutes, double what is normal if the vehicle is in the county, and double the ministry’s acceptable response time. • In a comparison with other jurisdictions of similar population, the consultant said Brant is “far busier but has fewer resources available to meet the demand.”
A major problem is off-loading of patients at Brantford General hospital.
“It’s very serious,” said Eddy. ”If they can’t drop off a patient, they’re left sitting there and not able to take another call.
“That’s something that has to be examined because it happens too often.”
The county and the city approved the purchase of one ambulance, which recently went into service, but no decision has been made on the second one requested.
Eddy suggested that, to speed up the process, it’s possible to order the ambulance ahead and have it approved in the 2018 budget.
“We could certainly look at that. The need is urgent.”
About twice a day no ambulances are available to respond to calls in Brantford and Brant County.