Michel Chrétien is the director of emergency services for the United Counties of Prescott and Russell. (Photo: Francis Tessier-Burns).

Stretched thin: local paramedics responded to average of four calls a day outside Prescott-Russell last year

Updated: April 3, 1:45 p.m.

Last year, United Counties of Prescott and Russell paramedics responded to just over three calls a day (1,158 total)  in Ottawa on average. On the flip side, City of Ottawa paramedics responded to one call every three and a half days (131 total) within Prescott-Russell.

Michel Chrétien, the UCPR’s director of emergency services, presented the stark discrepancy at the counties’ latest emergency services committee meeting last week.

While not as large, there’s also a significant gap between the number of calls UCPR paramedics respond to in Stormont, Dundas and Glengarry (478 total), whose service is based in the City of Cornwall, and vice versa (92 total).

The worrying trend for Chrétien is that both gaps grew between last year and 2016.

Those gaps also translate to money coming out of Prescott-Russell taxpayer pockets—nearly $1.5 million over the past two years. Of that, Ottawa would owe just over one million. But currently there’s nothing to compel either neighbouring department to pay back that money.

Under the Ambulance Act, if an ambulance responds to a call in a neighbouring municipality, “the affected (municipalities) may enter into an agreement with respect to the costs…”

With that in mind, Chrétien advised to send the new bill and to keep putting pressure on the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care (MOHLTC).

  • For more coverage of the ongoing battle between neighbouring emergency services, click here

‘I want more action’

But that wasn’t enough for Robert Kirby, mayor of East Hawkesbury and chair of the emergency services committee.

In my township, the rate of service is the poorest of the Counties,” he said. “I’m not prepared to accept that we’re going to send ambulances to Cornwall and Ottawa, and not get paid when we’re going to suffer here in Prescott-Russell.”

When it came to putting pressure, Kirby said, “we can do it until we’re blue in the face and nothing happens,” and later added, “I’m fed up and I want more action than to just say we’re putting on pressure.”  

During the meeting, Chrétien said he was disappointed by the lack of engagement from the MOHLTC. His department sent in the 2016 bill and, according to Chrétien, the ministry didn’t acknowledge it.

For Clarence-Rockland Mayor Guy Desjardins, the lingering—and growing—bill is especially insulting considering Ottawa finished the year with a $25 million surplus.

As a call for drastic action, Kirby suggested sending a letter to both Ottawa and Cornwall warning that in 30 days UCPR paramedics will no longer respond to calls outside Prescott-Russell.

“That’s my proposition,” he said, “and let the cards fall where they may.”

Legal recourse

While such a letter may have an immediate impact, it’s also illegal. Chrétien says to do so would be asking him to “go against the law.”

But he adds lawyers have found legal ways to challenge the ministry and will likely pursue them further.

“If the community supports us and we keep putting pressure, I think we’ll succeed,” he says. “We want to make this an election issue.”

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