Residents of Boissevain petition against closure of town's EMS station

Another Manitoba community has joined the chorus of those calling for the Manitoba government to back down on planned changes to the province's emergency medical services system.

Petition against emergency medical services changes in southwestern Manitoba town has over 200 signatures

The EMS station in Boissevain, Man., is one of 18 slated to close as part of a 10-year overhaul of the province's EMS system. (Riley Laychuk/CBC)

Another Manitoba community has joined the chorus of those calling for the Manitoba government to back down on planned changes to the province's emergency medical services system.

A petition has begun circulating in Boissevain, Man., a town about 70 kilometres south of Brandon along Highway 10. The EMS station in the town is one of 18 the province has slated for closure amid a 10-year overhaul.

"The community is quite outraged with this," said Leo Poulin, CAO of the municipality of Boissevain-Morton. The municipality's council started the petition last week.

"It's actually unified our community quite substantially in the fact that we've been a strong supporter of the current government and this is something that is touching home with a lot of poeple."

Last year, the Progressive Conservative government announced a large-scale transformation of the province's emergency medical services system that includes closing more than a dozen EMS stations in rural Manitoba.

The changes were recommended in a 2013 report on the province's EMS system. It advised closing low-volume stations and reducing the number of stations in rural Manitoba by 18.

Five new stations are slated for construction and the province will staff all stations 24/7. Some are currently staffed by on-call medics on evenings and weekends.

Busy highway

In Boissevain, the station is staffed during the day, but medics remain on-call in the evening and on weekends, according to Poulin. 

He said the community decided to start the petition in an effort to put pressure on the government to reconsider. 

"We feel strongly that we need to have an EMS station in Boissevain," he said, noting that the town is located along a busy highway and is close to the international border.

"Our community has a higher average age of residents … and we've had episodes with the border crossing [by asylum seekers], and we have a railway through town," Poulin said.

Figures from the town indicate more than one million vehicles drive through Boissevain on Highway 10 each year.

Several other communities have spoken about against the planned EMS changes.

Residents in Grandview — about 300 kilometres northwest of Winnipeg — submitted a petition to the province late last year with more than 2,500 signatures.

Councillors in the southwestern Manitoba rural municipality of Sifton have also banded together with those from other towns and municipalities in the region to oppose to changes.

"It's important to note that when people call 911 and need an ambulance, one will continue to be sent," a provincial spokesperson said in an email to CBC News.

"In many cases, people are already having ambulances from other communities sent to theirs. Ambulances in rural Manitoba are regularly dispatched to other communities to cover calls when ambulances in a home community are not available or are on another call," the spokesperson said.

"This work already happens in rural Manitoba to ensure coverage is available when people need it most. This is known as 'flexible dispatch.' This will continue moving forward."

The province has previously said the EMS overhaul will improve response time in rural Manitoba because ambulances and staff will be more strategically located.

The Paramedics Association of Manitoba has also said that the changes have the potential to give rural Manitoba a safer EMS system, staffed with more highly skilled medics.

Still, residents in Boissevain aren't completely sold on the plan. Poulin said more than 200 people have signed the petition since it was released last week.

"Everyone that's coming in has been signing [the petition] and encouraging us to stands up against it," said Poulin.

"We feel that at the end of the day, just because of the geographical location, population and the different services around our community, it's only logical to keep EMS in Boissevain."