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One step forward, two steps back: Ottawa and rural EMS services can’t find middle ground

Michel Chrétien says rural emergency services is sticking to the game plan to change how they respond to calls in Ottawa.

That response from the director of emergency services of Prescott-Russell comes after Ottawa announced it was pulling out of a tentative deal struck at the end of July.

The deal would see rural EMS services only responding to calls in the city if a patient was in cardiac arrest, unconscious or there was a disaster.

But earlier this week, Anthony Di Monte, Ottawa’s general manager of emergency and protective services, was quote as saying the city would “not consider” the deal.

Chrétien said the decision surprised the neighbouring rural EMS services.

“We thought we had fixed part of the problem,” said Chrétien, and added that Ottawa should be an “integral part” of the solution since it operates the dispatch centre.

No ‘gamesmanship’

Di Monte was quoted as saying the deal was “gamesmanship” on the part of the rural services—something Chrétien quickly rebutted.

“We’re not doing any gamesmanship when it comes to people’s lives,” said Chrétien. “To say that is completely irresponsible.”

He added that the deal was drafted and sent out to the neighbouring EMS services by Myles Cassidy, Ottawa’s paramedic chief.

The proposed deal was the result of a significant increase in calls between 2015 and 2016. Chrétien says Prescott-Russell paramedics used to respond to between 300 and 400 calls a year in the city. That ballooned to more than 1,000 last year—no small task for a fleet of only eight ambulances. For its part, Ottawa responded to less than 150 calls in Prescott-Russell in 2016.

He says all of Ottawa’s rural partners got an increase in calls, not just Prescott-Russell.

Despite the changes that were implemented after a 2016 investigation into Ottawa’s dispatch system, Chrétien is projecting even more calls this year.

Province is silent

For that reason, he says the rural partners are sticking together and plan to pass the deal by their respective municipal councils and add the protocols to their deployment plans.

In Prescott-Russell’s case, it’ll be at the end of September. After that, the revised plan has to be approved by the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care.

According to Chrétien, the rural partners have kept the Ministry up-to-date with the proposed deal, but have yet to get a response. The silent treatment is nothing new, says Chrétien, but he’s remaining optimistic.  

The province’s principle of “seamlessness” dictates the nearest ambulance must respond to a call. But Chrétien now says that principle is overriding his ability to adequately serve his community, which is outlined by law.

The proposed deal, he says, is an attempt to find a balance between available resources, as well as legal and moral responsibility. That’s why it laws out specific instances when rural paramedics can respond to calls.

Chrétien says he’s ready if there’s pushback from the province on the deal. “We’ll create the debate to finally have a discussion.”

The patients needs are at stake.

“We’re knocking on wood,” says Chrétien, “that there has yet to be an incident where we couldn’t respond in time because we were on a call in Ottawa.”

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