Canadian City Officials Unhappy Over Needed EMS Upgrades

KAWARTHA LAKES – City of Kawartha Lakes councillors were not happy to hear the city’s EMS system needs an estimated $10 million over the next 20 years to address the challenges of an aging population and increased call volumes as the city grows.

Wayne Wood and Charles Longeway of UEM Consulting made a presentation at a special council meeting on March 29.

While the current EMS department meets provincial requirements, including the levels of training that must be met by paramedics, the report says there are “outstanding issues that required attention in order to achieve compliance related to response time, documentation and patient care equipment.”

Mr. Wood told council the city’s population is aging, and many people are retiring to the area. But, he noted people moving here will expect the same level of emergency care they had in the larger municipalities in which they spent their working lives.

The study found that greater stresses are imposed on EMS during the summer when the population swells, and the physical size and geography of the city are also factors. Currently, the south area of the city is served by Peterborough and Durham, and the north by Haliburton. The report also notes that City of Kawartha Lakes service to Peterborough County will be “significantly reduced” when Peterborough puts an EMS vehicle in Buckhorn.

The report was critical of several issues such as the overlap of response times in the Sturgeon Lake area, parts of it being unreachable by EMS vehicles, the “disconnection” between supervisory staff and front-line paramedics (including that there is no supervision after 5 p.m. and on weekends), and also noted the three EMS stations are “not strategically located.”

The report says EMS is being managed well, but will need additional resources, especially in facilities and manpower to “meet the challenges of the next 20 years.”

It contains 27 recommendations for improvements, including possible relocation of the Fenelon Falls and Bobcaygeon stations (at a cost of $1.2 million each) and Lindsay ($1.9 million) to expand their service areas. It also recommends improving fleet and staffing levels.

The costs are projected from 2010 to 2031 for a total of $10,466,304.

Mr. Wood said it’s the paramedics who are the first line of care in a medical emergency, and said, “We shouldn’t be thinking ‘time to ambulance’, we should be thinking ‘time to paramedic.'”

He suggested a re-allocation of resources, noting and advanced care paramedic can take care of a patient while enroute to a “gold standard” cardiac or stroke hospital, such as Newmarket and Peterborough.

Kawartha Lakes EMS responds to about 12,000 calls each year, which could escalate to more than 18,000 by 2031.

A map in the report shows the current coverage area in three overlapping circles that encompass areas north to Coboconk, east to Bobcaygeon, south almost to Janetville and west to Woodville. The study proposes changing those areas to four; the fourth would serve Janetville to Pontypool.

It did not show extending the coverage area to include Norland, Kinmount, Burnt River and many other northern villages, which angered Ward 2 Coun. Emmett Yeo and Ward 3 Coun. David Hodgson. Both said the influx of visitors to the area in summer alone left no doubt as to the need to address the northern areas, even though they are also serviced by Haliburton County.

Coun. Yeo was not happy with the report’s claim that the city’s summer population increases by 30,000 people and challenged that number, noting there are about 180,000 who visit Balsam Lake Provincial Park. He called the number “grossly underestimated.”

Ward 13 Coun. Pat Warren was upset about taking the Bobcaygeon station out of the village, but Mr. Wood said 50 per cent of the calls in Bobcaygeon are to Peterborough County, especially for strokes.

The most contentious issue was who would pay for the proposed improvements. Mayor Ric McGee asked if the Province would kick in on the costs, which over 20 years equals about $500,000 per year.

Ward 15 Coun. Gerald McGregor was angry the report contained no information about whether the Province had been contacted to see if they would help with costs. The consultants answered that it is hard to go to the Province when council has not first considered the report.

But, Coun. McGregor said council would not consider approving such recommendations without knowing if the Province would provide financial help. And, he pointed out the report makes no mention of the city’s 400 volunteer firefighters, who regularly respond to medical calls “and are there long before the ambulance and even the police.”

Mayor McGee told the consultants the report needed to be accompanied by a financial plan before council was expected to approve a Master Plan. He said council was being asked to approve something they “don’t know how to implement” without knowing how it would be financed.

“The Ministry of Health and Long Term Care sets these standards and we’re jumping through hoops [trying to implement them],” Mayor McGee said. “The Province needs to be putting up money to help municipalities.”

Mr. Wood was visibly upset, saying his firm was commissioned to do the study for a Master Plan, not to provide a financing plan. He said providing information on what the Province might or might not pay for, and how to fund the Master Plan was “moving into the realm of implementation.” He added his firm would be happy to provide an implementation plan. The mayor, however, stood firm, saying how the Master Plan would be paid for is information that should have been included in the original report.

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