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“It’s a start”: UCPR welcomes changes for Ottawa’s ambulance service

The province has asked Ottawa to change some of its ambulance service’s policies, after an investigation published in November of 2016 found the service had an “overall, ongoing and systemic problem.”

Mayors from Prescott and Russell recently met with Health Minister Eric Hoskins at the OGRA conference in Toronto. At a United Counties committee of the whole meeting on March 8, UCPR Warden Gary Barton said he was “pleasantly surprised” by the outcome of the meeting. “They made those changes to Ottawa the very next day after we met with them,” he said.

CAO Stephane Parisien said it will take a few months to see what effect the policy changes have on the number of ambulances being sent to Ottawa from Prescott and Russell. “It’s a start, it won’t fix the problem,” he said. In recent months, the head of Prescott-Russell Emergency Services, as well as local mayors, have raised concerns about the large number of ambulances being called to Ottawa, saying this area is being left vulnerable.

The Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care investigated the night shift of August 6, 2016 after a request from Prescott and Russell Paramedic Services. Ottawa had called Prescott-Russell ambulances 13 times that night, cancelling 10 of the calls within a few minutes. The investigation found that night, the Ottawa Paramedic Service experienced a high volume of calls and two separate surges of calls that stressed the city’s resources. Prescott Russell ambulances were called in, and seven times the calls were cancelled when an Ottawa ambulance became available.

According to a letter from Jason Collins, a senior field manager for the ministry, dated February 24, Ottawa’s dispatchers were not at fault. However, certain policies in place in Ottawa “reduce the availability of ambulance resources and restrict the ability of the ACO (Ambulance Communications Officer) to assign the closest resource.” Those policies, the letter continues, mean “Ottawa CACC is found to be in default of their performance agreement with the province of Ontario.”

The city was asked to change two policies: the first, the Transfer of Care policy, automatically gave paramedics 30 minutes after a hospital drop-off to get ready for another call. The second, the city’s End of Shift policy, meant paramedics who were back at the station 30 minutes or less before the end of their shift were not sent out on new calls, “regardless of the number of available resources,” according to the ministry’s investigation.  The letter from Collins gave the city until March 3 to change the policies.