Province will upgrade technology but won't commit to letting region take over ambulance dispatch

Waterloo MPP Catherine Fife asked whether the province would allow the region to take over ambulance dispatch, but Health Minister Christine Elliott says the province is working to 'modernize and strengthen our system.'

'Frontline workers deserve so much better than this,' MPP Fife says

Ontario's Health Minister Christine Elliott says the province is working to 'modernize and strengthen' the ambulance dispatch system but she would not say if the government would allow Waterloo region to take over the system. (Kate Bueckert/CBC)

Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott is remaining quiet about allowing Waterloo region to take over ambulance dispatch services after being confronted about the issue during question period at Queen's Park on Wednesday. 

Waterloo MPP Catherine Fife asked Elliot whether she would allow Waterloo region to take over ambulance dispatch services, as the region has requested.

Elliott says the provincial government plans to improve the technology used by ambulance dispatchers, but she side-stepped the question of whether the region could take over.

"We are looking at the appropriate health mix across all of the stages in our healthcare system," Elliott said in response to Fife's question.

In December 2018, ambulance dispatch for Waterloo region was moved from Cambridge to Hamilton due to a staffing shortage. That was a problem, Fife said, because Hamilton's dispatch wasn't set up with the proper technology to pinpoint locations of 911 calls.

She said it meant at least one ambulance was sent to the wrong location initially.

The province has said it's investigating that case.

Fife said Wednesday that the province knew about the staffing issue long before that happened.

"In June, managers were told by your ministry staff that Cambridge was headed towards a staffing crisis," she said.

"Since this crisis, this ministry has done almost nothing to address the underlying issue of staff retention," Fife added, noting the province waited six weeks before putting up job postings for the Cambridge positions.

"Frontline workers deserve so much better than this." 

Elliott said she was aware of the problems.

"The situation was very unfortunate, but we are working to modernize and strengthen our system and that changes are going to be coming forward shortly to make sure that patients don't fall between the cracks," Elliott said.

"I assure you that we are continuing to work on that."

In an interview after question period, Fife told CBC Kitchener-Waterloo she wasn't happy with Elliott's response, "I hope that the minister continues to consider what options are available to her to make sure that citizens in Waterloo region have the access to 911 dispatch services, which of course they are entitled to."


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