Ambulance merger would be 'a kick in the teeth' to Hamilton, union says

Paramedics are anxious after word the province is looking at cutting 59 ambulance services down to 10.

Paramedics, politicians and emergency services all surprised by provincial plan

Offloading times for ambulances at Hamilton hospitals are above the provincial average. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

Merging Hamilton's ambulance services into a larger conglomerate would be "a kick in the teeth" to people who live here, says the head of a local paramedic union.

And a surprised city mayor Fred Eisenberger says the Ford government's plan to potentially consolidate 59 ambulance services into 10 is a "monumental" decision apparently made without consultation.

Mario Posteraro, president of OPSEU Local 256, says paramedics are nervous about what the Ford government is proposing.

"It would be a kick in the teeth to the paramedics and patients, and everyone in this city," said Posteraro. "It would be a regressive step putting us back 30 years."

Posteraro fears a larger entity — especially a private one — would put more emphasis on the bottom line. Right now, the city oversees local ambulance service, he said, and it cares more about service than money.

"Municipalities made the right decision to take the services in-house," he said.

The spectre of mergers came Tuesday when a leaked Association of Municipalities of Ontario memo revealed the province's plans.

Finance Minister Vic Fedeli hinted at it in last week's budget, referencing "integrating emergency health services into Ontario's health care system." He also referenced cutting the number of public health units from 35 to 10.

The Ministry of Health confirmed it Tuesday, but said "no paramedic in Ontario will lose their job," a spokesperson said.

"As we move our modernization agenda forward, we are working directly alongside frontline paramedics and our municipal partners to ensure emergency health services can better meet the needs of Ontario's communities."

Mike Sanderson, chief of Hamilton Paramedic Service, said it's "totally unexpected."

"I'm very comfortable with our city model," he said. "It's a good model. I really don't know what the impact will be."

Eisenberger is also waiting to see what it all means.

"We're all wondering where did this come from, where are the details and where is the consultation, all the things that should happen prior to making a monumental decision like this."

In the late 1990s, the Mike Harris PC government downloaded the ambulance service to municipalities, which stretched their budgets. Now municipal governments contribute about $720 million to ambulance services, while the province chips in $580 million.

If Ford plans to upload the cost and responsibility, that's good news, said Coun. Sam Merulla, who chairs the committee that oversees ambulance service. If Hamilton has less control over ambulance service, but still has to pay for it, that's the worst case scenario. 

"If they're going to continue to download the cost and only upload control at our expense, that makes it worse," Merulla said.

At the end of the day, though, "they can do whatever they want. They own us."

About the Author

Samantha Craggs is a CBC News reporter based in Hamilton, Ont. She has a particular interest in politics and social justice stories, and tweets live from Hamilton city hall. Follow her on Twitter at @SamCraggsCBC, or email her at samantha.craggs@cbc.ca

With files from Mike Crawley


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