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Rural emergency response robbed by the city

The city is recruiting rural emergency responders, resulting in longer response times for rural communities

By Jennifer Jackson

Ottawa paramedic demands may be trumping those of its outlying rural regions. This practice means longer emergency response wait times, and potentially serious life or death concerns for Renfrew and Prescott-Russell County residents. Paramedics from these counties are voicing their fears for the health of the rural residents they serve, according to a Mar. 2 CBC article.

Paramedic concerns escalated amidst recent news of an Embrun mother’s experience. On Feb. 6, her infant started to suffer from multiple seizures and it took the ambulance 30 minutes to respond. This delay was because the community’s sole ambulance had been sent to Ottawa for another call.

On Feb. 28, Renfrew and Prescott-Russell representatives met with Eric Hoskins, Ontario minister of Health and Long-Term Care, to address the issue of rural emergency response times and the Embrun case.

Situations like the one in Embrun, are “what we need to work to avoid,” Hoskins said, according to the CBC article. “I think it was an important illustration of some of the challenges that municipalities face.”



Michael Nolan, Renfrew County’s paramedic chief, was one of the representatives to speak with Hoskins.

Over the past year, Prescott-Russell County sent its paramedics to Ottawa over 1,000 times, according to Nolan.

This issue is “absolutely life or death,” he said to CBC. “This isn’t an exceptional basis anymore. It’s actually a deliberate draw of rural paramedic services to not only subsidize, but to become the response agency for the City of Ottawa.

“Enough is enough. The city needs to take care of its residents and if its extraordinary we’re here for you, but extraordinary has become routine.”

These problems seemingly stem from the city’s dispatch system, according to Nolan. When there is a lack of available resources to attend to a Code 4 (highest ranked emergency code) labelled call, rural help is recruited. The issue however, is that the dispatcher often does not gather enough information and errs on the side of caution. This fact sometimes results in rural emergency responders being pulled from their regions to assist minor incidents.

Also, emergency calls are often cancelled as rural paramedics drive long distances into the city, said Nolan.

A new dispatching system is in the works to better allocate emergency resources, according to Hoskins. “We’ve made a commitment to replace the computer software, the dispatch system, for one which is much better in determining the severity of a particular incident,” he said.

Nolan is optimistic, however ultimately is still thinking of his county’s residents.

“Every night, every weekend that goes by, we’re all holding our breath, hoping that our crews are where they’re supposed to be – and that’s in their own municipality,” said Nolan. 

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