More money earmarked more paramedics, ambulances

The province has announced $32.5 million in additional funding to improve ambulance response times, with the local Rainy River District Social Services Administration Board to get more than $500,000 of those funds.
While welcomed, the additional funding won’t solve all issues with providing ambulance services in this area.
“It was really good news. We haven’t received the formal notification but we are receiving $515,000 in addition to our annual budget from the province to fund the staffing model put in place,” DSSAB CAO Donna Dittaro said yesterday.
The money is part of $32.5 million Health and Long-Term Care minister Tony Clement announced last month that would be spent to fund an additional 500 paramedics and extra ambulances across the province.
Money will also be used to improve training and upgrade equipment.
The board discussed the additional funds and other land ambulance issues at its regular meeting last Thursday.
“We were thrilled. It is what we were waiting anxiously to hear,” Dittaro said.
While the money is welcomed, Dittaro admitted it won’t solve all the problems experienced providing ambulance service throughout the district.
“The unincorporated share . . . remains an issue,” she said.
Dittaro noted that unlike other municipalities that collect taxes themselves to pay for road maintenance and services such as ambulances, unincorporated areas pay their taxes directly to the province.
The province then is supposed to return the portion of taxes to pay for the services.
“With other ministries, we bill them for their services just like we bill Fort Frances for its share of ambulance costs,” Dittaro said. “[But] the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care doesn’t do it that way. They incorporate it into their funding template.”
Instead of submitting a bill to be reimbursed for the unincorporated share of the cost, the ministry incorporates the funds into the remainder of money given to DSSAB.
“We’re only getting 50 percent of it,” Dittaro remarked, adding the province owes an estimated $142,000 for their share of the bill from 2001.
“At the end of the day, if the province doesn’t come through, then the municipalities have to pick up the money,” she added.
While this has been an ongoing concern, Dittaro said recent talks with the province have shown some movement on the matter—and that a committee is in place to review the funding issue that really factors in only in the north.
Another major issue with land ambulance is finding enough paramedics to hire. While the province is now funding an additional 500 paramedics, municipalities are struggling to find enough qualified people.
“Right now we have nine full-time positions and two part-time positions that we are short,” Grace Silander, ambulance manager for the west Rainy River District, said yesterday.
Silander said they have been working hard for months to fill these spaces to no avail.
“It is very difficult. Number-one, people from the city are not happy with our slower pace. . . . They feel we have a lower call rate but our geography has a large impact on patient ambulance calls,” she said.
Silander explained that while transporting a patient to the hospital could take 10 minutes in an urban setting, moving patients from rural communities to the hospital could take up to two hours.
“We may have a lower call rate but they don’t realize you spend a significant amount of time with each patient,” she continued. “The resources being used you have to manage patient care for a lot longer.
“Those skills have got to be sharp to take care of a patient for that long.”
While waiting for additional paramedic staff, Silander said current employees are being pushed to the limit.
“We are working every casual employee up to full-time hours,” she admitted. “Somehow we managed to give everyone some vacation time this summer but the casual staff and the full-time staff have really extended themselves.
“They’re getting frustrated and tired.”
Still, there is some light at the end of the tunnel. They just recently had three prospective paramedics visit the area and are hoping they’ll stay.
“We weren’t the only ones visiting them though,” Silander warned. “We’re hoping they will be coming here.”
They also will be sharing two new qualified primary care paramedics part-time.
As well, there currently are five people taking the initial college course required to work as a casual paramedic. The course is set to wrap up Oct. 13, with a provincial qualifications exam to be written Oct. 28.
If these candidates pass, as well as pass other employment criteria such as a criminal record check, driving record check, and references, they then can be hired here locally as casual staff.
Post-secondary schools such as Confederation College also are considering offering extra courses to help increase the number of qualified paramedics in this area.
“I’m optimistic,” Silander said. “We’re not going to let this place go down. We’re just going to struggle a little bit but we are going to get there.
“Really my hat’s off to everyone of the staff of all three of the services,” she enthused. “They have really been an asset. They really extended themselves to make sure patient care in the district is covered.”