Flamborough residents wait nearly twice as long for an ambulance

It takes nearly twice the amount of time to get an ambulance in Flamborough as it does in the lower city. But the solution for how to fix it could lead to a political standoff on city council.

Slower rural response times will be the centre of a Feb. 27 debate

It takes nearly twice as long to get an ambulance in Flamborough as it does in old Hamilton. But how to fix that could end in a tense debate about area rating. (CBC)

It takes nearly twice the amount of time to get an ambulance in Flamborough as it does in the lower city. But the solution for how to fix it could lead to a political standoff on city council over who pays.

New figures in this year’s budget show it takes over 18 minutes, on average, to get an ambulance in Flamborough. Meanwhile, it takes about 11 minutes to get one in the old city of Hamilton.

Michael Sanderson, chief of Hamilton Paramedic Services, will bring forward a request for 30 new paramedics to a Feb. 27 budget meeting to help address the disparity. The plan would cost local property taxpayers about $1.7 million per year.

They can’t have it both ways.- Coun. Sam Merulla

But Coun. Rob Pasuta of Ward 14 in Flamborough says he’s “heard rumblings” that other councillors might suggest area rating the cost- meaning only those areas getting the extra ambulances would pay.

“I hope not,” said Pasuta, who called the disparity in response times “a concern.”

Area rating is a hot topic since Coun. Sam Merulla, a lower-city councillor, plans to bring forward a motion to have transit put on the general levy. Currently, it’s area rated, so each ward pays according to the amount of transit it receives. Pasuta’s rural ward has no transit, so it doesn't pay for it, even though Pasuta votes on transit matters. Pasuta is opposed to his residents paying for transit.

Area rating for paramedics?

If the city stayed consistent with the existing model, adding more paramedics to reduce response times in rural areas would be area rated, said Merulla, who represents Ward 4.

“They can’t have it both ways.”

But Pasuta said this is different. His area doesn’t pay for transit because it doesn’t have transit, but more ambulances will benefit everyone.

“There’s a difference,” he said. “Everybody shares paramedics and ambulances. Everybody doesn’t share transit.”

The response time figures are according to the 90th percentile of calls. They measure from the time someone calls the dispatch to the time an ambulance arrives.

When you live in a rural area, it takes longer for anything to get there.- Coun. Robert Pasuta

The old city has the best response times. In 2014, ambulances arrived around 10:59 after dispatch received the call. That was down slightly from 10:30 in 2013.

Dundas response times have also fallen. In 2013, the ward had the best ambulance response times, with ambulances arriving nine minutes and 13 seconds after a call. In 2013, that fell to 12:30. Response times in Glanbrook improved.

More paramedics would lower response times

Overall, most ambulance calls arrived with 11:42 of the call in Hamilton, compared to 11:11 in 2013.

But the 90th percentile of Flamborough ambulance calls arrive around 18 minutes — specifically, 18:35 in 2014 and 18:47 in 2013.

Sanderson’s request will be for 30 new paramedics, which would add four more ambulances on day shifts and two on night shifts. It would cost $3.4 million, but with the costs shared with the province, it would cost the local property taxpayers about $1.7 million more per year.

Having more paramedics would mean more equitable service across Hamilton’s 1,100 square kilometres, Sanderson said.

It would also lessen the number of code zero incidents, a term to describe when there’s one or fewer ambulances available to answer emergency calls.

Fewer 'code zero' events

There were 34 code zero incidents in January 2014, Sanderson said. There were about seven last month. So “we’re on the right trend. We are getting there.”

Thirty more staff would also improve working conditions for Hamilton’s paramedics, who have some of the heaviest workloads in the province, Sanderson said.

In 2014, Hamilton Paramedic Services added the full time equivalent of eight new staff.

Pasuta met with Sanderson last week to see if Sanderson could “whittle down” the number.

As it stands, Pasuta said, he doesn’t think he’ll support the full ask.

Wants to bring the cost down

“I still have to digest the full amount he’s asking for in looking for an increase,” he said. “We’re going to try to whittle it down.”

“In one way, it’s unacceptable,” Pasuta said of the difference in response times. “But in another way, we have to realize that we’re in a rural area. It’s a fact of life. When you live in a rural area, it takes longer for anything to get there.”

The city has passed its capital and rate-supported budgets for 2015. It expects to pass the operating budget in late March or early April.

Paramedics predict an increase of 2.4 per cent over 2014 spending, while the fire department is asking for a 2.1 per cent increase.

Hamilton Police Services have received a 2.95-per cent increase, as well as a commitment for $900,000 toward a $15-million investigative services building in downtown Hamilton.

Emergency response time reliability, 90th percentile from crew notified by dispatch to first arriving unit

  • City of Hamilton: 11:11 minutes in 2013, 11:42 in 2014
  • Ancaster: 12:46 in 2013, 12:45 in 2014
  • Dundas: 9:13 in 2013, 12:30 in 2014
  • Flamborough: 18:47 in 2013, 18:35 in 2014
  • Glanbrook: 14:54 in 2013, 13 in 2014
  • Hamilton (old city): 10:30 in 2013, 10:59 in 2014
  • Stoney Creek: 11:46 in 2013, 12:11 in 2014