Grandview, Man., commissions study on local healthcare in fight to save EMS station

A group advocating to keep ambulance service based in Grandview, Man., has enlisted help from researchers at McMaster University in their plight.

Province says no ambulance stations have closed yet

A citizens group in Grandview, Man., has enlisted help from McMaster University to study the town's heathcare. (Riley Laychuk/CBC)

A group advocating to keep ambulance service based in Grandview, Man., has enlisted help from researchers at McMaster University in their plight.

Sue Stirling, co-ordinator of Grandview Healthcare Solution — a citizen group that was formed after the province announced plans to close more than a dozen EMS stations in the province — said the province has been relying on out-of-province research to justify the closures and changes. She believes if the community solicits its own out-of-province view on the service, that could help sway provincial officials to keep ambulance service in the community.

"We have our own sense of why it works but we'd like them to come in and tell us, or show us graphically, why it works," Stirling told CBC News.

The province announced a multi-year transformation of the province's Emergency Medical Services stations in June 2017, based on recommendations in a 2013 report that advised closing low-volume stations and reducing the number of stations in rural Manitoba by 18. It involved moving the ambulance in Grandview to Gilbert Plains, about 15 kilometres away.

At the same time, the province said five new stations will also be built and staffed with full-time paramedics.

It doesn't seem to make sense to us that they are carrying on in this way without any kind of openness in what their intentions are.- Sue Stirling, co-ordinator of Grandview Healthcare Solution

Kelvin Goertzen, who was health minister at the time, said the closures and new stations will improve response time in rural Manitoba because ambulances will be more strategically located and staffed. Currently, some EMS stations operate on a part-time or on-call basis.

Stirling said the decision is still top of mind for people in her community, located about 290 kilometres northwest of Winnipeg, near Dauphin. She said members are still feeling left out in the cold.

"Every place that I go to, I am told how angry the local [community] members are," she said. "It doesn't seem to make sense to us that they are carrying on in this way without any kind of openness in what their intentions are."

Stirling also said her group has been trying to get a meeting with Health Minister Cameron Friesen to discuss the closure or its timeline. She said an advertisement from Prairie Mountain Health for a paramedic position in Grandview has given community members some hope that the closure won't happen soon.

"[We are] frustrated at the government's response to the community of Grandview," she said. "But encouraged that PMH at least recognizes that they can't do what the government wants without having all of the pieces in place."

In a statement on Monday, Friesen said a 24.25 full-time equivalent paramedic position is being added in the Prairie Mountain Health region and will "ensure paramedics are well-positioned to respond to calls."

"Manitoba Health, Seniors and Active Living has had extensive conversations with community leaders from Grandview," Friesen said. "We anticipate those conversations will continue in the months ahead."

NDP Leader Wab Kinew said in question period Tuesday that it's disappointing Grandview residents need to hire out-of-province consultants because that's the only advice the government seems to listen to.

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister said the government is following a proposal the NDP commissioned while in government, but never acted upon.

Patients diverted elsewhere

Health officials in Grandview have said the move could mean patients are instead taken to hospitals in Dauphin or Roblin — closer to the home bases for the new paramedics — leaving less reliance on the Grandview hospital, which is fully staffed.  

The Paramedics Association of Manitoba has said the current model is not sustainable and changes need to be made in order to better serve rural areas.

The province said in late November that plans to implement the EMS review recommendations are still ongoing and no stations have closed.

Stirling said the McMaster researchers will be interviewing local residents as part of the study and hopes to hear more early in the new year. There is no cost estimate on the study yet available. 

"I have no doubt that the community of Grandview .... [is] committed to doing everything they can to keep the healthcare services intact in Grandview," she said.