Clearing ambulance bill is just a start says counties
If the City of Ottawa would hurry up and pay up on its overdue share of the ambulance service bill between it and the United Counties, that would be nice as far as the mayors of the region are concerned. But it would just be the start of fixing the situation.
“Whether or not we get financial compensation, that does not fix the problem,” said Stéphane Parisien, chief administrator for the United Counties of Prescott-Russell (UCPR), during the council’s April 26 session.
Parisien’s comment was part of his response to a question from Mayor Robert Kirby of East Hawkesbury Township, about whether the provincial government has responded to the UCPR’s demand for help getting the City of Ottawa to pay up its over-due debt for the use of Prescott-Russell ambulance units and paramedics, to deal with Ottawa emergency calls.
Kirby’s question followed a review of a letter the counties council received from the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care concerning its investigation of a situation, August 6 of last year, when all of PrescottRussell’s ambulance crews were dealing with Ottawa calls, resulting in very long days for residents in the two counties who needed ambulance service.
The provincial investigation found that part of the problem was a result of the City of Ottawa’s own policies for its own ambulance crews dealing with shift changes, and also the turnaround time between bringing a patient by ambulance to a hospital, cleaning and restocking the unit, and then telling dispatch that the unit was available again for calls. Ottawa has been told to make changes to its shift policy to help deal with the situation and the ministry has now declared the investigation closed.
Meanwhile the ministry is also “conducting an analysis,” according to Parisien, on a detailed financial brief the UCPR sent concerning Ottawa’s delinquent ambulance service debt. The UCPR council has since approved a six-point protocol from administration for lobbying both the province and Ottawa to discharge the debt, including filing formal complaints to both the Ontario Ombudsman and the auditor-general if nothing succeeds in getting satisfaction.
But Parisien noted that even if the debt gets paid some day, the problem between the City of Ottawa and all of its county neighbours, including the UCPR, will continue because of the changes that Queen’s Park made several years ago to the provincial ambulance policy regulations, without consulting the municipal and regional governments.
“We’re handling more (ambulance) calls than we ever did before,” Parisien said, adding that the big problem is the province’s definition of “seamlessness” for dispatch services deciding how to assign calls, because it makes the chances equal of either an Ottawa unit or a UCPR unit getting an Ottawa call.
Michel Chrétien, UCPR emergency services director, also noted that when the province made the changes to the ambulance service policy, the City of Ottawa management had the foresight to take advantage of the new “seamlessness” definition. It started concentrating its existing staff on the call volume for the city’s core area and left the outlying rural and small urban areas for the neighbouring ambulance services in UCPR, Lanark and other counties to handle through shared dispatch.