'Massive mistake': Rural town fights to prevent closure of local Manitoba EMS station
Joining with other towns might be only hope, Sifton Coun. Scott Phillips says
A western Manitoba councillor hopes strength in numbers will help save the EMS station in his town and others across the region slated for closure.
Scott Phillips, a councillor in the rural municipality of Sifton, said news that the ambulance garage in the town of Oak Lake, Man., is closing has sparked many questions and letters from people in the surrounding area.
Oak Lake, a town about 60 kilometres west of Brandon, is one of more than 20 Manitoba towns slated to lose their EMS station amid a flurry of healthcare changes in Manitoba. The stations will be replaced with five new ambulance stations in other nearby towns as recommended by a review commissioned by the Manitoba government four years ago.
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Phillips said the changes don't make sense.
"We think it's just a massive mistake for the health care and the safety of people all over the province," Phillips told CBC News.
"We just find it very [insulting] ... at the time of the election there was just so much promise to the rural parts of the province and this is just another shot that we don't appreciate."
Phillips said the rural municipality of Sifton has talked with other towns and municipalities in southwestern Manitoba to petition the government against the cuts. He said using a strength-in-numbers approach on other issues has had success in the past and hopes it could again.
Phillips said about a dozen trained paramedics work full time in Oak Lake and respond to around 400 calls per year. In addition to local Oak Lake calls, paramedics respond to calls along the Trans-Canada Highway, in Sioux Valley Dakota Nation, and to surrounding rural homes and villages.
It's also currently the closest ambulance to two local resorts that see approximately 15,000 visitors in the summertime, he said.
"Everyone's got individual cases of how the Oak Lake ambulance has saved somebody in their house," he said.
"It's such an ideal location and it makes absolutely no sense as to why it's being taken away," Phillips said. "It's just seen as such a slap in the face that they would pick Oak Lake, who's exceeded expectations across the board."
Paramedics association on board with changes
Eric Glass, administrator for the Paramedics Association of Manitoba, admits that while response times could increase in some cases under the new model, the association is still on board with the realignment.
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"I think the increase in those times is far outweighed by the improvements in the system and the improvement in the care that will be provided," Glass said, adding that the majority of calls will still fall within the 30 minute threshold.
He said that the changes still stand to give rural Manitoba a safer EMS system staffed with more highly skilled medics, while relying less on medics who are sometimes on-call for days at a time.
He said success should stop being measured by response time and instead be placed on the type of care patients receive.
"It [response time] probably only is important in one per cent of the calls that paramedics respond to in the province. Only about one per cent are probably truly life threatening."
"It's a regional issue. There's so many miles and miles of farmland and small villages and towns that rely on this," Phillips said. "And if you centralize them ... someone's going to die."
"It's just asinine that they would even consider it," Phillips said.
The Manitoba government said that many municipalities were closely involved in the consultations that took place over the course of the 2013 review, and that any changes to the system will only happen once enough new full-time paramedics are hired.
He hopes the province might reconsider some of the changes if enough people speak up.
"I think that the provincial government should inquire more outside of the perimeter before they make such rash decisions," Phillips added. "This impacts thousands of people."