Toronto

Ontario paramedics hope to get provincial approval for project to avoid double dispatching

Paramedics in three Ontario counties are hoping to obtain Ontario government approval for a pilot project that would improve ambulance dispatching in the large area that they cover.

Pilot project, which would last 3 months, would aim to prevent duplication of ambulance services

Doug Socha, paramedic chief of Hastings-Quinte Paramedic Services, says he is hoping the provincial government will approve a pilot project that would improve ambulance dispatching in Ontario. (Frederic Pepin/CBC)

Paramedics in three Ontario counties are hoping to obtain Ontario government approval for a pilot project that would improve ambulance dispatching in the large area that they cover.

Doug Socha, paramedic chief of Hastings-Quinte Paramedic Services, said the project would involve a website with a digital map that would track ambulances on the road through an "auto vehicle locator."

The pilot project in Hastings, Northumberland and Peterborough counties, east of Toronto, would aim to avoid duplication of services.

Hastings-Quinte Paramedic Services, Northumberland Paramedics, and Peterborough County-City Paramedics all support the project, which would last three months. All three organizations have been waiting for approval from Ontario's health ministry for one year. 
In three counties in Eastern Ontario, occasionally there is a double dispatching of ambulances, which paramedics say is a waste of resources. ( Frederic Pepin/CBC)

"We have had multiple meetings to try to advance this technology. We feel it's very beneficial, not only to our community, but to the rest of Ontario," Socha said.

Paramedics 'really frustrated'

"We're really frustrated and certainly not understanding why we haven't received a response, a positive response, and no concrete timeline on when we could look at implementing this."

Currently, a communications centre in Kingston dispatches Hastings-Quinte paramedics, while one in Lindsay, Ont. dispatches Northumberland and Peterborough County paramedics. The provinces runs the centres, which dispatch regionally, but the municipalities offer the services.

When an emergency call is received from a location within five kilometres of county boundaries, one ambulance will be dispatched from the Kingston centre while another will be dispatched from the Lindsay one. Then the centres will contact paramedics to determine which ambulance is closer and the ambulance further away will be cancelled.

"So you have two ambulances responding to the same emergency call," Socha said. "The problem is, they can't see the ambulances in the other municipalities." 
An employee at a communications centre in Kingston, Ont. looks at a screen. (Frederic Pepin/CBC)

And an ambulance cannot be diverted to another call until it is determined which one is closer. And because one centre cannot track the ambulances dispatched by another, Socha said the lack of co-ordination results in double dispatching. 

Essentially, the problem means a waste of resources, he said.

Province willing to discuss 'next steps'

David Jensen, spokesperson for Ontario's health ministry, confirmed in an email that ministry officials will meet later this month with Socha to discuss the proposal.

In the email, Jensen said the ministry is preparing to talk about "next steps" for the planned pilot project. 

"The ministry of health and long-term care is focused on a number of foundational business transformation projects which will improve land ambulance communications and dispatch in Ontario to create operational efficiencies and put patients first within Ontario's emergency health system," he said. 

"Proposals to the ministry, including any new technology requests, are internally reviewed and assessed." 
A line of ambulances is parked in a garage in Belleville, Ont. (Frederic Pepin/CBC)

Socha said the pilot project would be funded by the Eastern Ontario Regional Network, a project that aims to improve mobile service across the region with the help of the provincial and federal governments, but it needs approval from the ministry because the technology involved would have to be located at the provincially-run dispatch centres.

"It would be at no cost to the ministry of health," he said.

With files from Muriel Draaisma, Frederic Pepin