Rural paramedic chiefs frustrated ambulances still called to Ottawa

Rural paramedic chiefs are demanding change – frustrated that ambulances are still being dispatched to dozens of emergencies in Ottawa monthly.

In a presentation to Prescott and Russell United Counties, the Executive Director of Emergency Services, Mike Chrétien, provided provincial data which showed Prescott Russell paramedics were called to Ottawa more than 1,100 times in 2017.

Chrétien says Prescott and Russel paramedics have eight vehicles daily to deal with calls in the consolidated counties they represent. When a vehicle is called to Ottawa, he says these communities are left vulnerable.

 “One of these days something’s going to happen where my vehicles will be gone elsewhere and someone is going to die,” said Chrétien.

Ottawa Paramedics responded to upwards of 140-thousand calls in 2017, according to Greg Furlong, the Dep. Chief for Ottawa Paramedic Service.

Furlong says the concern is always the patient’s best interest.

He says Ottawa is following provincial guidelines when dispatching county paramedics to the capital 

“It is a province wide system design so that the closest ambulance is always assigned to the patient in need, regardless of that municipal boundary,” said Greg Furlong, Dep. Chief for Ottawa Paramedic Service.

CTV Ottawa requested stats from the City of Ottawa for the number of times they reached level zero in the last two months. City staff said it would take too long for employees to collect the data.

Furlong says he’s aware of some instances of level zero occurring.  

Data collected by the Ministry of Health and Long-term Care shows Prescott and Russel paramedics were called to Ottawa more than 140 times in February.

The Chief for Renfrew County Paramedics says his vehicles were called to the capital more than 60 times that same month.

On a particularly busy day on February fifth, Chief Michael Nolan says Renfrew Paramedics were called by Ottawa five times in a row.

Nolan says in one case, paramedics were forced to pass by a collision in Arnprior, because they were already dispatched to Ottawa.

“It’s absolutely a terrifying feeling as an administrator to know that the ambulances and paramedics that we’ve provided in this County of Renfrew – for the County of Renfrew- are being taken advantage of, and being sent into a neighbouring municipality,” Nolan said.

Last year, after municipalities made similar complaints about being forced to respond to a growing number of Ottawa's emergencies. In response, the province put out a report, directing Ottawa Paramedics to change dispatch practices. 

Ottawa paramedics were asked to end the mandatory 30-minute wait period after a patient was dropped off at the hospital. They were also asked to change a policy which stopped paramedics from being dispatched to emergencies if they were back at their home station, with only 30 minutes remaining in their shift.

Most recently in December, new rules were put into place that allows Ottawa paramedics to take over a call after paramedics from another municipality have already been assigned. It allows county paramedics to return to their home municipality.

Some paramedic chiefs across Ontario say the changes have helped – but say more work is required. 

Chrétien says Prescott and Russell United Counties called in Ottawa paramedics roughly 130 in 2017. 

"If it was 150 for 150 it wouldn't be an issue, but because there is an enormous gap there we question a lot of things," he said. 

The ministry says discussions are ongoing with paramedic services from the city of Ottawa and surrounding municipalities.