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Rural ambulance services to remain part of region’s budget

Ambulance response times, traditionally well above average in the townships, could start trending in a positive direction.

Regional council voted unanimously in favour of a motion put forward by Wellesley Mayor Joe Nowak to add a 12-hour ambulance to its fleet, while maintaining all four rural emergency response units (RERU) currently in operation. The measure was part of the 2015 budget approved March 4.

The decision rebuffed a staff proposal which called for the addition of the region wide ambulance at the expense of one of the four RERUs, which focus on medical emergencies in the rural townships, Woolwich, Wellesley, North Dumfries and Wilmot.

Nowak was pleased with council’s decision.

“It was unanimous with all the regional councillors, which was a good thing. What it will do is it will improve the response times region-wide,” he said. “So it’s a win-win, I think, for everybody.”

The cost of keeping the RERU and adding an ambulance totals $484,000 annually, although half of the tab will be covered by a provincial subsidy. The equivalence of six full-time staff members will also be added to the region’s payroll.

For Nowak, it will be money well spent.

“We had pre-budget consultations with the region (staff) and at one of the meetings in January the staff report they gave us outlined three options,” he said. “One was to replace the RERU with a regular ambulance; in essence it was an upgrade. I think the rationale there was that the ambulance is able to transport patients while the RERU is not able to. The second option was to do nothing and the third was to keep the RERU and add the ambulance. … In their report it suggested that by (replacing the RERU with a region wide ambulance) that it could negatively affect response times in the rural areas and so that was my first clue, so to speak, that there was an issue that was developing and I thought there was no need to go backwards. We’ve already got times where it can be 20-25 minutes for an ambulance to get out here (to Wellesley Township) and that’s on average. We had an incident there the other week in the far corner near Linwood where it took almost 35 minutes – that’s not acceptable. For the region to suggest that by doing this it could actually make things worse, that was a red flag for me.”

Wellesley Township had the worst response times in the region in 2014, as 90 per cent of calls took up to 20:53 minutes or less to arrive on scene. Last year, the 90th percentile mark in the cities was 10:46, compared to a township wide average of 17:14.

The RERUs are located at the Ayr fire hall, the St. Jacobs paramedic station and the Baden paramedic station.

The location of the new ambulance has not been determined, and the addition does not guarantee improvements to response times, said Stephen Van Valkenburg, Waterloo Region director of paramedic services.

“Response times are largely dependent on location of calls in relation to the location of the ambulance or RERU resources, therefore difficult to predict. We would anticipate that  the addition of an ambulance resource will improve overall response time, provided call volumes stay at the same level. Should call volumes outpace our ability to have available resources, response times may not show as positive of a decrease as desired.”

The region currently has 18 ambulances in its fleet, with three more planned for the 2016 budget.

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