Earlier this year, the United Counties of Prescott and Russell’s emergency services committee wanted “more action” when it came to paramedics responding to calls in Ottawa.
On Wednesday, that’s exactly what it got.
After months of discussion with Toronto legal firm Hicks Morley, the UCPR announced new practices when its paramedics are outside the territory.
Specifically, if an ambulance must bring a patient to a hospital outside of Prescott-Russell, it will make itself unavailable for dispatch until it crosses back into the region.
- Read more: Stretched thin: local paramedics responded to average of four calls a day outside Prescott-Russell last year
The changes will kick in after 60 days, during which time the emergency services department will be advising the province’s Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care. But Michel Chrétien, emergency services director for the UCPR, says the ministry has known his department has been leaning towards legal recourse for awhile.
“The Ambulance Act is quite clear that if we get a call in our community to respond to another community, we must do that,” says Chrétien. “But it’s ambiguous or not even identified that once we’re in another municipality, do we need to respond to a call in that municipality.”
He’s quick to add that Prescott-Russell paramedics will stop if they come across an emergency on their way back.
Two birds, one stone
Of course, with Prescott-Russell paramedics responding to a disproportionate number of calls in Ottawa, there’s also a disproportionate cost.
According to Chrétien, Ottawa calls have cost about $3 million in 2016 and 2017 combined; the ministry pays half and taxpayers have been left to foot the rest of the bill.
By responding to fewer calls in Ottawa, he says, “by default we mostly fix the cost problem.”
As a quick aside, Chrétien says the discussions with Hicks Morley has cost his department between $5,000 and $6,000.
Seamlessness principle outdated
Throughout the lengthy back and forth between Ottawa, Prescott-Russell and the ministry, the concept of seamlessness has been front and centre.
This is the idea the there should be a seamless transition between municipalities responding to calls in other jurisdiction.
Chrétien now says that idea made sense when the province was fully responsible for paramedic services; now it’s outdated and not legally enforced.
“Seamlessness has been exaggerated to a point where we have to respond to communities that are not providing the necessary vehicles,” he says. “For us, it’s not a very strong word.”
Pierre Leroux, Russell mayor and Liberal MPP hopeful, seized the opportunity to make an election promise.
If elected, he said, he’d look into introducing a private member’s bill that would reverse the Ambulance Act to essentially force an agreement between municipalities if they are to respond to calls in their neighbour’s jurisdiction.
Chrétien says that was exactly one of the recommendations he received from the legal firm.
Right now, the act says municipalities can enter into an agreement but aren’t obligated to do so.
“At the end of the day, if your neighbour doesn’t want to, there’s no recourse other than challenging the ministry,” he says.
That’s what he’s hoping these changes will do: get the ministry at the table and “bring a solution, not a band-aid.”
Possible legal battle
Chrétien says he doesn’t have any expectations when it comes to the reactions of the ministry and Ottawa.
In a statement, the ministry said it is “reviewing the situation” and will “continue to facilitate weekly discussion between Ottawa Paramedic Services and paramedic services in neighbouring municipalities.”
Asked about the possibility of a battle in the courts and how far he’s willing to go, Chrétien said:
“We wouldn’t have gone for it if we didn’t think we had a good case to fight this… We hope it doesn’t get to there, we genuinely hope that we can work together as a team. We’re not backing off from the fight. We’ll take it publicly and my council has fully supported that we move forward… I’m ready to go as far as it needs because I want to protect our constituents, I want to protect this municipality.”
Updated to reflect the statement given by the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care.
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