Rural counties call on province to right impasse over Ottawa ambulance 'shortfall'

Five eastern Ontario counties say their ambulances are increasingly being asked to make up for service shortfalls within the city of Ottawa and want the province to ensure they get reimbursed for it.

Rural ambulances diverted to help Ottawa with 'shortfalls' aren't being reimbursed: municipalities

Five neighbouring counties say a lack of ambulatory resources in downtown Ottawa is forcing their ambulances to respond to more and more calls within Ottawa. ( Susana Mas/CBC)

Five eastern Ontario counties say their ambulances are increasingly being asked to make up for service "shortfalls" within the city of Ottawa, and want the province to ensure they get reimbursed for it.

Prescott and Russell emergency services director Michel Chrétien, speaking for the group, said a contract they had with Ottawa paramedics ran out last year, and Ottawa has shown no appetite to renew it.

"It wouldn't be an issue if it were one call for one call, or a hundred calls for a hundred calls," said Chrétien. "We'd say, yeah, it's the cost of doing business… but that is not the case. We're doing seven times more calls for Ottawa than they are doing for us."

Prescott and Russell is one of five counties that issued a news release Monday stating they're having an increasingly difficult time operating and funding their paramedic services because their ambulances are spending more time in Ottawa.

The other municipalities are:

  • The County of Renfrew.
  • The County of Lanark.
  • The United Counties of Leeds and Grenville.
  • The United Counties of Stormont, Dundas and Glengarry.

The rural ambulances are spending more time in Ottawa because of a provincial requirement that the closest available ambulance must respond to calls.

'We're putting our community in jeopardy'

For example, when an ambulance from Renfrew County is the closest to a call in the nearby Ottawa community of Kinburn, and then has to transport that patient to an Ottawa hospital, that rural ambulance could become the nearest available for yet another Ottawa-based call near the hospital.

Chrétien said that means rural ambulances can be tied up for hours servicing Ottawa instead of their own communities.

He said one day Prescott and Russell paramedics responded to as many as 14 calls in Ottawa, and just eight in their own county.

"We're putting our community in jeopardy," he said.

Chrétien said it's also costing his municipality half a million dollars a year to cover these costs.

Downtown Ottawa 'a vortex' for calls

Ottawa's paramedic chief said in February downtown Ottawa was a "vortex" for these types of calls, adding the system has "perhaps reached a limit" resulting from increasing call volumes and a lack of resources in the downtown core.

Prescott and Russell Warden Guy Desjardins said in a news release Monday their ambulances were 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."

"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."

Between June 2015 and June 2016, call volumes from neighbouring municipalities into Ottawa increased by 60 per cent, with the largest increases experienced by Prescott and Russell (105 per cent), Lanark (88 per cent) and Renfrew (41 per cent), according to the municipalities.

They're calling on Premier Kathleen Wynne and Health Minister Eric Hoskins to modify Ontario's definition of "seamless" ambulance service and to make reimbursement mandatory instead of optional.