08 Mar 17

Health Ministry mandates that Ottawa change ambulance protocol

Candice Vetter

Villager Staff

OTTAWA — On Wed., March 1, Ottawa Paramedic Emergency and Protective Services Chief Peter Kelly submitted a memorandum to Ottawa City Council saying the City’s ambulance service will respect the recommendations put forth by the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care after it investigated the numbers of times neighbouring rural counties had to provide ambulance services to City residents.

MOHLTC recommended better reporting from paramedics after they have transferred a patient into hospital care — as on many occasions the ambulance was available but had not been reported available, with time discrepancies.

The investigation stemmed from the complaint made by UCPR Paramedic Chief Michel Chretien that the Ottawa Central Ambulance Communications Centre had been dispatching UCPR ambulances into the City unnecessarily. The investigation focused on the night shift of Aug. 6, last year when 13 calls for ambulances in Ottawa were assigned to UCPR, sometimes travelling deep into the urban environment and leaving the rural counties underserved or even unprotected.

In a later telephone interview with The Villager, Chretien said he could have picked almost any night and had similar results.

That statement has been borne out by events since then, with many days and nights during which rural ambulance services have had to fill in for the City’s lack of sufficient ambulance vehicles and of paramedic staff. That problem is one Chief Kelly told The Villager, in an email earlier this year, would soon be alleviated. “The 2017 draft budget includes the addition of 24 paramedics and five emergency response vehicles,” said Kelly, “and the 2018 draft budget would see the addition of 14 paramedics and one emergency response vehicle.” The City also added more paramedics in 2016.

Chretien and other paramedic chiefs in rural counties surrounding Ottawa have been sounding the alarm on the issue since last summer. A recent event in Embrun highlighted the seriousness of the situation, when an infant child subject to seizures was turning blue before an ambulance arrived because UCPR ambulances were serving Ottawa. Last week CBC reported that a dispatcher redirected the only available ambulance to respond to a higher-priority call in Ottawa. Consequently the baby boy’s mother was told it may take over an hour for an ambulance to arrive. One did come from Bourget in 30 minutes, but the boy’s lips were blue as she gave him mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.

Chretien had also told The Villager that one day UCPR ambulances spent the whole day in Ottawa city limits, mostly in the far west end near Hwy. 416.

Ottawa appears to be taking advantage of the lack of a reciprocal agreement between municipalities for ambulance use. A contract providing payment for cross-boundary services ran out recently, and the provincial government ended the requirement in 2008, so now Ottawa has significantly increased its use of neighbours’ ambulances, but is not paying for their use.

Some Ottawa city councillors have acted as if this is a money issue, but Chretien and other chiefs have said it’s not about money, although it appears they are being taken advantage of monetarily, so much as about safety for the people in their communities. “They’re leaving us without coverage,” said Chretien.

Regarding payment the City has made a couple of arguments that do not seem to make sense, claiming that because neighbouring municipalities do not contribute to Ottawa’s roads and transit, they should contribute in other ways to pay the City back. Although why they appear to think rural municipalities should pay for City streets, when the City doesn’t support rural roads, is a mystery. For several years now Ottawa Councillors and real-estate developers have made comments, both publicly and to this reporter, about how the rest of Eastern Ontario is “dependent” on the City. Apparently ignoring the “Farmers Feed Cities” signs which point out the real dependence of cities on the countryside, this attitude shows the level of disconnect of urbanized society in general, and is one of the battle lines in rural-urban strife.

Chief Kelly’s memo to Ottawa Council excused the problems, saying the MOHLTC had approved the plan originally, but said he would agree with some of the changes being suggested. These include not taking City ambulances out of service 30 minutes before shift ends, improving the reporting of availability (before there had been discrepancies of between five and 42 minutes), and reducing clean-up/paperwork time after calls.

“Notwithstanding that protocols were followed,” the memo reads, “the MOHLTC found as part of their investigation that two local operating policies, specifically the transfer of care and the Ministry-approved ‘end of shift’ policies, should be updated.”

Surrounding municipalities have welcomed the news.