Prescott-Russell’s emergency services has predicted it can only respond to CTAS 1 cases, the most urgent emergencies, 48 per cent of the time within the eight-minute target set by the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care (MOHLTC).
That 48 per cent was the department’s goal for 2017 and will be next year as well. But Michel Chrétien, the director of emergency services for the United Counties of Prescott-Russell (UCPR), says that number is “unfair”.
The eight-minute target, he says, was put in place for urban municipalities and the ministry has simply kept that target for all municipalities without taking into consideration resources, size and density.
According to Chrétien, that figure should be 15 minutes and 59 seconds. If that was the case—as it is for the remaining CTAS categories—then the target is met 90 per cent of the time.
CTAS stands for Canadian Triage Acuity Scale and that determines the severity of emergency calls. Categories run from one to five; one being the most acute, where resuscitation is likely involved, to five being non-urgent.
Chrétien would like to see the CTAS 1 eight-minute target changed to reflect the reality of the UCPR—essentially mostly rural communities.
He adds that the Land Ambulance Response Time Performance Plan presented at the latest UCPR council meeting, is a “snapshot” of what emergency services can do given its current ressources.
The notable change between 2017 and 2018’s response time targets is in the Sudden Cardiac Arrest category. The MOHTLC set the target at six minutes. UCPR’s target is to respond to calls within that time 30 per cent of the time.
Since this type of call happens so rarely, Chrétien says one or two calls can determine whether or not the department hits its target.
During the meeting, Mayor François St. Amour of The Nation, asked how response times compared within his municipality and so Chrétien will be putting together a report to show how response times differ across the UCPR.
He says some municipalities’ response times will be “very good”, such as in Hawkesbury, which is a smaller area to cover. But when it comes to bigger municipalities, like The Nation, times will definitely be higher due to the vastness of the territory. Other municipalities like East Hawkesbury don’t have an ambulance located there because there are so few calls.
Chrétien says ambulances are constantly being shuffled around Prescott-Russell based on a balancing act of measuring call volume and maintaining acceptable response times.
The UCPR’s emergency services department is also dealing with external factors that Chrétien says affect its response times.
One issue is the fact that ambulances are often called to respond to calls in Ottawa. The city and its rural neighbours have been butting heads for more than a year about trying to respond to calls without abandoning rural communities.
“I have enough resources for my County, but if they keep being taken away, then I’m short,” says Chrétien.
That’s why UCPR council has sometimes been reticent to spend more within the department, in fear it’ll end up benefiting Ottawa.
Nonetheless, it recently added two new positions to next year’s budget within the rapid-response unit. That decision was the result of a combination of factors: the overall call volume within the UCPR went up 14 per cent in the past year, response times were going up, and situations where fewer than three ambulances were available also jumped 65 per cent.
“We’re paying for more resources in the community,” says Chrétien. “It’s not our fault if our neighbour doesn’t have enough resources,” he adds, referring to Ottawa. That, he says, is the crux of his dealings with the MOHLTC.
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