Northern SD&G affected by Prescott-Russell EMS away-call refusal

(Newswatch Group/File)

SD&G – Northern SD&G will be affected to a lesser extent by Prescott-Russell’s move to not respond to EMS calls when they’re outside their own territory, even if they’re the closest ambulance.

The move by Prescott-Russell to use a legal loophole is meant to prevent their ambulances from being stuck in downtown Ottawa responding to calls there, which is dictated by provincial law.

Because the ambulance service can’t be selective on policy, the move for paramedics to go out of the service after responding to a call outside their jurisdiction will affect North Dundas, North Stormont and North Glengarry.

Speaking with Cornwall Newswatch, Prescott-Russell EMS Deputy Chief of Operations, Marc-Andre Periard, says it won’t affect SD&G as much.

“It doesn’t really affect us in SD&G because the call volume is not there. The service (in SD&G), they send relief vehicles, so if we get a call in Morewood, for example, they will send a transport vehicle so we might be closest but they’ll send a vehicle to the finish the call off. And we’re not in a high density, high call volume area,” Periard said.

On average, Prescott-Russell responds to 500 calls a year in SD&G.

Periard says they’re taking this stance because they need to provide a service in their home community. “This weekend, we had three vehicles doing calls in the City of Ottawa and we had zero ambulances available in Prescott-Russell. That’s a scary situation for our residents.”

But he says the relationship is good between Prescott-Russell and SD&G.

“It works great between Prescott-Russell and Cornwall. It’s perfect because we have the same amount of call volume, the same amount of resources. When we respond to SD&G and Cornwall, I would say – ballpark figure – 95 per cent of the time they have a relief vehicle coming. We’re just closer but they have the resources and capacity,” he said.

To a lesser extent, the issue is also about money. Ottawa did not renew a cost-sharing agreement between it, Prescott-Russell and SD&G in 2015, Periard said.

Cornwall-SDG Paramedic Services

Cornwall-SDG Paramedic Services chief Bill Lister told Cornwall Newswatch the number of ambulances caught in Ottawa on calls is “not as bad for SD&G as Prescott-Russell.”

He says they usually head to Ottawa General Hospital and Civic Hospital which “kind of takes us out of the downtown core where the bulk of the calls are taking place.”

Lister admits “it is a problem” but not at the frequency in Prescott-Russell, mostly because SD&G mostly runs to hospitals within its jurisdiction. Periard says half of Prescott-Russell’s ambulance fleet is going to Ottawa as it’s the closest hospital.

Lister says they are working with the Ministry of Health pilot programs in conjunction with Ottawa dispatch, such as better prioritizing of calls and having the closest ambulance relieved by a host ambulance.

“We’re seeing some positive results in the pilot programs that they’re trying. The frequency is dropping. It’s not that we never do it but it’s dropping,” Lister said.

But Lister is not prepared to join Prescott-Russell in a similar policy. “Our strategy is, we’re going to work with the ministry on the pilot programs that they’re working on.”

Mayor wants to talk more with Prescott-Russell

Cornwall Mayor Bernadette Clement says she was aware of Prescott-Russell’s move during the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) conference in Quebec City on the weekend.

Speaking with Cornwall Newswatch after the Social Development Council’s AGM at the Benson Center, Clement said she spoke with a Prescott-Russell mayor about it.

“I don’t think Cornwall’s situation is exactly the same as Prescott-Russell’s but we experience similar issues around the needs in Ottawa. I am probably going to have further conversations with the folks in Prescott-Russell and with our folks here in Cornwall. Further discussions are going to take place,” Clement said.

“We’re going to look at this again. We also have to talk to the counties. With EMS, Cornwall manages the service but the impact is also in the counties so, when I speak on this topic, I have to make sure that I’m going to be also talking to the counties about this.”