Prescott and Russell moves to pull ambulances from Ottawa

The United Counties of Prescott and Russell are moving ahead with a plan that will stop its paramedics from answering non-emergency calls in neighbouring communities, including Ottawa.

Neighbouring municipality willing to pay fines, wage legal battle

Prescott-Russell failed to meet any of its six response time criteria in 2018; the first time ever, according to the township. (CBC)

The United Counties of Prescott and Russell are moving ahead with a plan that will stop paramedics from answering non-emergency calls in neighbouring communities, including Ottawa.

The plan would take any ambulances responding to calls outside of the township out of commission as of June 4, except in case of emergencies, until they are back in the community.

The township has been working with the Ontario government for three years on the problem of ambulance availability, said Michel Chrétien, director of emergency services with Prescott and Russell.

"But at the end of the day we've had no results. Not even a reply to say that they're still looking at it or they're not interested," he said.

The problem, Chrétien said, is that other communities, especially Ottawa, are using their ambulances for non-priority calls, sometimes leaving Prescott and Russell with none.

It is not our responsibility, at the end of the day, to provide service to another community.​- Michel Chrétien, Prescott and Russell

"The situation has gotten worse," he said.

"It is not our responsibility, at the end of the day, to provide service to another community."

He said the community has no problem with time-sensitive calls, such as a sudden cardiac arrest, which make up only one to two per cent of all calls.

Plan was paused

On Wednesday, the township's Emergency Services Committee approved the plan.

It comes as the Ford government plans to amalgamate municipal and local paramedic services across Ontario into 10 regional ambulance providers.

Prescott and Russell had planned to implement this strategy a year ago, but put it on hold when discussions with the new provincial government looked promising.

Those talks have now ceased, Chrétien said.

'Illegal' move

For years, the City of Ottawa has been blamed by neighbouring municipalities for over-relying on ambulances from other communities.

The city has approved an additional $4.3 million for its paramedic service in this year's budget, which plans to hire 14 paramedics and buy two vehicles.

Chrétien's counterpart in Ottawa said what Prescott and Russell is doing is illegal and its dispute is with the province, not the city.

Anthony DiMonte, Ottawa's general manager of emergency and protective services, called the move by Prescott-Russell 'illegal.' (CBC)

"It's a piece of provincial law. It's not Ottawa. We do a lot of calls in Prescott and Russell. We do a lot of calls in Renfrew. They do a lot of calls in Ottawa. The concept in Ontario, it's seamless," said Anthony Di Monte, Ottawa's general manager of emergency and protective services.

"They've told the province [of their plan]. The province has written back to them and said that would be illegal, cease and desist, and I presume they're going to respect the law."

Prescott and Russell will pay fines

Chrétien said they were never given a cease and desist letter, but were told the Ambulance Act doesn't permit the township to take their ambulances offline, something he disputes. 

"I guess we're at a standstill where both the province and us disagree," he said, adding the municipality is ready to pay any fines handed out by the province or take the matter to court.

Michel Chrétien said the township is prepared to go to court to defend its plan because he believes it's more detrimental to continue with the status quo. (Ashley Burke/CBC News)

He said the municipality is already breaching the Ambulance Act by not meeting response times, which he calls "a crisis".

Last year was the first time the township didn't meet a single one of its criteria for response times, he said.

Late Thursday, a spokesperson for Ontario's Ministry of Health and Long-term Care sent an email to CBC saying that they have advised Prescott and Russell that, under the act, counties can not take ambulances out of services in this manner. 

"It is an expectation that the United Counties of Prescott and Russell (UCPR) not take ambulances out of service if located in a neighbouring municipality," said spokesperson David Jensen.

"Any instances of non-compliance or contraventions of the legislated requirements and standards by certified land ambulance operators will be reviewed and investigated."

The government has said it's long-term plan will "streamline and consolidate emergency health services" and provide individual regions "with the resources, personnel, tools and technology they need." 


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