“Now, we are actually working with the Ministry of Health and the dispatch centre for new solutions,” said Marc-André Périard, emergency services director for the United Counties of Prescott and Russell (UCPR).
For several years the UCPR has had a problem with the increasing number of outside call demands on its ambulance units, from the City of Ottawa to the west, and the City of Cornwall and the Stormont-Dundas-Glengarry region to the east. Most of the outside calls have come from Ottawa and the situation has gotten to the point that UCPR residents were at risk of having no ambulance units available for their emergency situations.
In June 2019, UCPR council approved a recommendation by then-emergency services’ director Michel Chrétien for a “silent running” policy, for dealing with dispatch calls for local ambulance units from outside of the Prescott-Russell region. Prescott-Russell units located within the UCPR would respond to such a call but on their return trip they would ignore any other outside dispatch demands until they were back at home base.
“It’s had an impact,” said Périard, noting that during the period from June to December 2019, PR ambulance units had 336 fewer dispatch calls to deal with from the Ottawa and Cornwall/SDG areas.
The UCPR “silent running” policy takes advantage of a legal loophole in the provincial government’s ambulance dispatch service regulations. The regulations state that any ambulance service must respond to an outside-call area request. But any unit which is already outside of its normal area of operation is not required to respond to any further outside-call requests until it has returned to its own service region.
“We don’t mind helping our neighbours for the big calls,” said Périard, but he noted that there is a difference between a “life or death” emergency call situation and a call to pick up someone with a broken leg or similar type of medical need.
System needs review
Périard has a meeting this week with ministry officials to go over some ideas for resolving the ambulance dispatch disputes the situation between the UCPR and neighbouring regions. “What is needed,” he said, “is better screening of the calls from the central dispatch for ‘real high-priority’ calls to PR ambulance units from outside of the region.”
He noted that the dispatch centre is doing an upgrade to its call dispatch system, which includes a better priority rating for calls.
“We feel like we’re going in the right direction,” he said, “and the ministry is being agreeable.”