DSSAB delays decision on cutting land ambulance

At a special meeting last week, the Rainy River District Social Services Administration Board decided to defer a decision on what to do with its land ambulance program until Aug. 30, at which time the board expects word on funding from the province.
The DSSAB is asking the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care to increase its funding for the land ambulance service, warning it will be forced to make cuts if it does not.
Back in March, the DSSAB passed a resolution stating that “should the province fail to provide funding to sustain the existing levels of service by May 31, 2005, the [RRDSSAB] will be forced to take steps, effective June 30, 2005, to reduce land ambulance service to affordable levels, effective Jan. 1, 2006.”
Earlier this month, the board agreed to extend the deadline to July 15. After further talks with the ministry, the board decided to extend the deadline again to Aug. 30.
“We feel that this extension will provide the ministry with ample opportunity to complete funding initiatives for the 2005/06 year,” said DSSAB chair Russ Fortier, who also is reeve of Emo.
“Once we receive our funding levels, the board of directors will reconsider what further action, if any, has to be taken,” he added.
When land ambulance services were downloaded to municipalities in 2001, it was agreed the cost would be shared on a 50/50 basis with the province.
But in March, the DSSAB said the province was contributing closer to 30 percent, with Rainy River District municipalities covering the rest.
As a result of these increased costs, the DSSAB passed its budget with a 10.38 percent increase in the municipal levy.
“The DSSAB budget increases are primarily the result of uncontrollable increases in the costs to deliver land ambulance service,” CAO Donna Dittaro had said at the time.
Also in March, the DSSAB learned it would receive $52,228 to improve patient care by upgrading and enhancing existing medical diagnostic treatment equipment.
This was less than one-10th of the $537,000 the board had requested.
“Decisions that face our municipal leaders at the RRDSSAB are difficult,” the board said in a press release issued last week. “They must determine whether reductions in services or increased costs to the taxpayers of the district are required.
“Meetings with the land ambulance operators—Riverside Health Care Facilities, Inc. and Atikokan General Hospital—have identified several funding issues which must be resolved in order to ensure the continued high quality of service currently being provided,” it added.
Among those funding issues is paramedic wages. In 2001, the ministry fixed funding for paramedic wages at $20.40/hr. Within the next year, the paramedic wage is expected to rise to more than $27/hr. in Northwestern Ontario—a 32 percent jump over four years.
The province refuses to pick up any wage increases over one percent.
There currently are 48 primary care paramedics in the district, as well as two service managers, one administrative support person, and one health services manager for land ambulance.
The DSSAB currently distributes funding for 10 ambulances—six single stretcher and four dual stretcher. The total vehicle assets amount to about $980,000 while total equipment assets total about $380,000.
Negotiations between DSSAB and the ministry are ongoing, with an announcement expected by the end of next month.
Fortier said he was pleased with the progress of the talks. “We’re making headway,” he remarked.
He also noted the DSSAB will face more challenges in the near future. With the Atikokan Generating Station slated for closure in 2007, that town’s assessment will drop considerably—as will its contributions to the DSSAB, which are based on assessment.
Other district municipalities will be left to make up the difference.
“Atikokan’s one of the major contributors for the apportionment on the DSSAB,” Fortier noted. “The whole thing will have a ripple effect across the northwest.”