The Manitoba government is moving ahead with a large-scale transformation of the province's emergency medical services system that includes closing more than a dozen EMS stations in rural Manitoba.
Health Minister Kelvin Goertzen said the changes were recommended in a 2013 report on the province's emergency medical services system. It advised closing low-volume stations and reducing the number of stations in rural Manitoba by 18.
"It's less about where the stations are and more about where ambulances are," Goertzen told reporters in Brandon on Thursday.
While low-volume stations will be closed, Goertzen said five new stations will be built and staffed with full-time paramedics.
The new stations will be located in the communities of Miniota, Cowan, Alonsa, Manigotogan and Eriksdale, while stations in Virden and Glenboro will be "enhanced," the province said. The new stations will all be staffed 24/7.
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Goertzen said the closures and new stations will improve response time in rural Manitoba because ambulances will be more strategically located and staffed. Currently, some EMS stations operate on a part-time or on-call basis.
"Stations don't show up at the front door to give you service, ambulances and paramedics do," Goertzen said. "It's not about where your station is located, it's where these ambulances and paramedics are being deployed."
Services consolidated with new stations
Of the 18 stations slated for closure, 11 are within the area that used to be the Assiniboine Regional Health Authority in western Manitoba, now part of Prairie Mountain Health.
The remaining seven would be "scattered across the former regions of Central, Interlake and North Eastman," the report said.
Several stations which are closing will be consolidated with new stations, or those which are being upgraded:
- Stations in in Baldur, Wawanesa and Treherne will consolidate with Glenboro's station.
- The station in Oak Lake will consolidate with Virden's updgraded station.
- Stations in Birtle and Hamiota will consolidate with the new station in Miniota.
- The station in McCreary will be consolidated with the new station in Alonsa.
- The station in Bissett will consolidate with Manigotogan's new station.
- Stations in Pinawa, Boissevain, Cartwright, Elkhorn, Grandview, Ethelbert, Hartney, Reston, Rossburn, Elie, Prawda/Reynolds, Riverton, Manitou and Swan Lake will close and not be consolidated with other stations.
- The Lundar station is also closing, and the area will be serviced by the station in St. Laurent and Eriksdale's new station.
The changes will bring the number of EMS stations in Manitoba to 74, down from the current 92.
Some of the closed stations will be transformed into storage or maintenance facilities, while others will be used as "geopost" locations, where ambulances can park if they are needed to service two areas at the same time.
Other stations in a poor state of repair will be decommissioned entirely, according to the province.
Consolidation 'disturbing,' mayor says
Wawanesa, Man. — a village about 185 kilometres southwest of Winnipeg — will see its station close, and its emergency medical services consolidated, along with those of two other towns, in Glenboro, Man., about 30 kilometres east.
"It's disturbing because I think when you get to EMS, we have the fire department in our village right now ... and then you're going to have a consolidation into Glenboro of the EMS. That's quite remote from where the fire department is," said Dave Kreklewich, the mayor of the municipality of Oakland-Wawanesa.
Wawanesa is currently served by part-time, on-call medics.
Kreklewich said he understands the move, as Glenboro has better hospital service than Wawanesa, but said Glenboro is quite far from the western side of the village, where a closed bridge has resulted in a lengthy detour.
"It doesn't hurt us too much in our community," he said. "I don't think it's that devastating as far as salaries or manpower ... but it's disturbing for getting to people in a timely nature."
29 paramedics to be hired
He said 29 new, full-time-equivalent, primary-care paramedics will be hired to staff stations in Arborg, Ashern, Glenboro, Waterhen, Gladstone/Kinosota, Carman and Morris at a cost of nearly $2 million. Of those, four have already been hired, he said.
Cameron Ritzer, chair of the Paramedic Association of Manitoba, said the organization supports the plan.
The Manitoba Government and General Employees' Union, meanwhile, said the new paramedic hires are a small step toward hiring the 400 it says are needed in the province.
The union, which represents paramedics in rural Manitoba, believes there will be no real change in the quality of care until all of the needed medics are hired.
"It's prudent that the government act now to fill those 400 positions before closing any sites, because until that happens no improvements to patient care are possible," the union said in a statement.
The announcement of the EMS changes comes a day after the province announced the creation of Shared Health Services Manitoba, which will centralize some of the functions currently administered by the province's five regional health authorities, including ambulance services.
Goertzen said it could take as long as 10 years to fully implement the changes.