New paramedic dispatch system to give most serious calls top priority

The province plans to have a new system to dispatch paramedics and ambulances more specifically and efficiently up and running within the next year.

Ottawa expected to be among 1st communities to get more efficient dispatch system

Ottawa South MPP John Fraser announced Tuesday at Ottawa paramedic headquarters that the province is getting a new 911 dispatch system. (Andrew Foote/CBC)

Ottawa is expected to be among the first communities in the province to get a new paramedic dispatch system aimed at giving the most serious cases top priority, and sending less serious cases to non-emergency medical centres.

The new system is also expected to ease the burden on outlying communities whose paramedics are often called in to Ottawa to help.

Ottawa South MPP John Fraser, the parliamentary secretary to Health Minister Eric Hoskins, made the announcement at Ottawa paramedic headquarters on Don Reid Drive Tuesday morning.

Ottawa should be one of the first communities to get the new system, he said, which will cost just over $10 million province-wide for set-up and training.

There have been loud calls in the capital region for a better way to assign paramedics. Municipalities surrounding Ottawa say they're being called into the city too often.

One of the reasons, they say, is that too many 911 calls are being given top priority status when they aren't actually emergencies. Giving calls top priority gives Ottawa the ability to call for help from other communities.

'Allows us to be much more specific'

"This tool helps us with that challenge," said Mark Taylor, Ottawa's deputy mayor.

"The newer tool allows us to be much more specific with regards to categories of calls," said Anthony Di Monte, general manager of Ottawa emergency services.

"Truly urgent calls are categorized as truly urgent and then we can respond accordingly. Those that are less urgent that we can defer a little bit, we'll manage a little bit better. It gives us more system capacity."

Fraser said paramedic dispatch changes proposed by the province Monday — which would send patients to medical facilities other than hospitals, if necessary — would also help better manage calls.

The dispatch changes should be in place across Ontario by June 2019, according to the province.

Union supports move to new system

A representative of CUPE 503, the union representing Ottawa's paramedics and dispatchers, said a system called MPDS is already used in Toronto and Niagara, as well as communities outside Ontario.

"We think that [the system] would have a positive effect on ambulance dispatch times in Ottawa and a positive effect on response times in Ottawa, so we're all in favour of it," said John McLuckie.

He said Ottawa paramedics have been asking for the system for years, and the change was recommended in an auditor general's report in 2013.

Relief for rural paramedics

Paramedic services outside the city are also celebrating the move, which they say will allow them to focus on their own communities.

"It would basically get us out of Ottawa," said Mike Chrétien, director of emergency services for Prescott-Russell.

"The other positive thing is that it should decrease the amount of times we respond to emergencies, because at the end of the day, it categorizes emergencies a lot better."

The province said it won't disclose which dispatch systems it's considering because it's currently in negotiations with interested companies.