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Wellesley looking for faster emergency response times

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Having the longest ambulance response times in the region, Wellesley Township may or may not see improvement when a third rural emergency response unit (RERU) is rolled out this summer.

Waterloo Region officials are still working on where the unit, a customized sports utility vehicle manned by paramedics, will be based. The RERUs bolster emergency response when an ambulance is not readily available.

Slower response times in Wellesley are a concern for Mayor Ross Kelterborn.

“Sometimes there are ambulances from Perth County closer to that call than something from the region is. I don’t believe that this RERU is going to be much of an increase in response times in Wellesley Township, it may be but not much,” said Kelterborn, who sees little benefit to residents unless the third unit is located in or closer to the township.

There are currently two rural units, one each in St. Jacobs and Baden. If the roving paramedics are the closest resource when a medical call comes in, they provide treatment on-scene, bridging the time until the arrival of an ambulance.

Kelterborn grants the unit would have to serve the entire region.

“In my opinion there should be one stationed in Wellesley Township, centrally located. But again, if a call came in from, say, Elmira and EMS was needed in Elmira and there was nothing else around, it would go to Elmira.”

The region is looking at several locations for the new unit, but nothing has been decided, said emergency medical Services (EMS) chief Stephen Van Valkenburg.

“The bottom line is, it’s a rural area: there’s not a great population density and there’s greater travel time. That’s part of it.”

Ambulance response times for Wellesley average 20 minutes and 50 seconds for 90 per cent of calls, longer than other townships. Wilmot’s 90th percentile falls into the 18:49 range, with North Dumfries at 16:08 and Woolwich at 15:21.

“It will definitely be in the rural area and we are taking a very hard look at the Wellesley area, that’s for sure.”

Another possible location for the RERU is Philipsburg, Wilmot Township, where a new ambulance station will be built, Van Valkenburg said.

With the purchase of a new vehicle, the cost of a third RERU comes to $327,000. Ambulance services hope to get 50 per cent of the cost back along with continued funding for the life of the unit after a submission for funding to the Ministry of Health. The new RERU was approved in the region’s 2014 budget and will hit the road starting July 1, said Van Valkenburg.

In an EMS quarterly performance report (October-December 2013) to regional council on March 4, associate medical officer of health Dr. Hsiu-Li Wang said the Emergency Response Times Working Group is looking to provide a more detailed examination of EMS response times in June. Van Valkenburg told councillors that call volumes are slightly down but are not likely the result of a trend.

Kelterborn also sits on the response times committee that will be discussing locations for the new unit with EMS staff. He said Wellesley’s tiered response system helps with some medical calls.

“What has provided some comfort, is the firemen who on particular calls are notified and they go out on a medical call. They bridge the gap between when the call comes in and when some type of regional service can get there and that helps somewhat. But, the objective is to get the EMS people there in better than the timeframe that we have now.”

Designed for responding to serious medical issues like unconsciousness and cardiac arrest, the system calls fire crews in the event lifesaving measures, like resuscitation or administering oxygen, need to be taken.

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