Longer ambulance wait times in Wellington county due to geography, service says
Most ambulances arrive within 12 minutes, the provincial standard is 6 to 8
The head of the Guelph-Wellington Paramedic Service says the rural nature of much of Wellington County means some people wait longer for an ambulance than the province recommends.
Council set its 2021 Paramedic Response Time Performance Plan on Monday, and the report to council included performance data from 2019.
Provincial standards dictate paramedics should respond to the most serious calls within eight minutes, and people experiencing sudden cardiac arrest should receive defibrillation within six minutes — from paramedics, firefighters or other trained personnel.
The Guelph-Wellington Paramedic Service achieved the six-minute target 51 per cent of the time in 2019. It achieved the eight-minute target 68 per cent of the time.
It says the service's goal is to meet both standards 65 per cent of the time in 2021.
For every one-minute delay in defibrillation, the chances of survival for a cardiac arrest victim decrease by seven to 10 per cent, according to the Heart and Stroke Foundation.
Most ambulances arrive within 12 minutes
The provincial targets just aren't realistic for a location like Guelph-Wellington, says Stephen Dewar, the chief and general manager of the paramedic service.
"That's based on our … catchment area, which includes for us all of Wellington County," said Dewar. "In rural settings, across our whole area, trying to reach any call within eight minutes … 100 per cent of the time would not be doable."
The service reaches nearly all calls within 12 minutes, Dewar said.
The Guelph-Wellington Paramedic Service Master Plan has recommendations for improving response times and some of those are implemented each year at budget time, he said.
However, Dewar said, call volumes have increased so much across Ontario, that the new measures are really only helping the service keep pace with demand.
The paramedic service is trying to prevent deaths by educating people on cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and promoting public access to defibrillators, Dewar said.
Very 'frank' about the cost of ambulance service
When asked if the service has consulted rural residents about their satisfaction with the wait times, Dewar said it takes direction from Wellington County council.
"We have been very frank with them about the cost of ambulance services," he said.
The organization has also done satisfaction surveys of the people who have received its services, he added, and most of the respondents gave it four stars.
The master plan compares the service's performance with that of services in similar regions, including Waterloo — and Guelph Wellington places 16th out of 17 regions surveyed.
Dewar attributes that to the fact that Guelph is not centrally located within its rural surroundings, so ambulances need to travel farther to reach some emergencies.
"Trying to do that in eight minutes means you have to have enough ambulances in a given area that they would do less than one call in a 24-hour period," he said. "So you would, you know, as a taxpayer be paying for an ambulance to sit for that length of time… and the general consensus is that the, you know, the taxpayer wouldn't be very happy with that."