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Regional council, local MPP look for changes to ambulance dispatch

[Stock Photo]

Looking to make its ambulances more responsive, the Region of Waterloo wants to bring dispatch services back home. The response time from the province has been an issue, however.

Dispatching is currently handled by the province, which in December moved the service from Cambridge to Hamilton. The region has been lobbying for more than a decade to bring the service in-house, with council last month making another formal request.

“They’ve written a letter to the premier asking for it to be done,” said Stephen Van Valkenburg, chief of paramedic services, of the latest move to push the plan forward. “I don’t believe there’s been a response to date.

It’s a longstanding concern that dates back at least to a 2007 EMS master plan.

“There’ve been discussions with the ministry before of our interest to take over the dispatch. From the ambulance dispatch perspective, they really have not taken an interest and really not come to the table.”

The latest action follows a December mishap in which an ambulance was dispatched to the wrong location during an emergency situation before being redirected to the correct location in St. Jacobs. This cost an additional 16 minutes.

That occurred shortly after the dispatch centre was transferred from Cambridge due to a staffing shortage to the Hamilton location.

An investigation was launched by the Ministry of Health and the region’s paramedic services after the incident. Following that, special technology to locate 911 callers – automatic number/location identification (ANI/ALI) – was installed in the Hamilton office.

“It’s more about being able to control our resources within our area,” said Van Valkenberg. “Police and fire have their own dispatch centres, we don’t. It’s a third-party – the ministry has our dispatch centre – so we’re not as responsive as we could be if it were under our control.”

Several areas across Ontario have control of their dispatch operations – Ottawa, Toronto, Niagara Region, and Timmins, all paid by the province. Waterloo would also want full funding from the province, along with advanced technology.

The request has unanimous support from regional council, with both Woolwich Mayor Sandy Shantz and Wellesley Mayor Joe Nowak noting they’re onboard.

The ball remains in the province’s court, however.

A spokesperson for the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care, David Jensen, said the ministry is “aware” of the multiple requests made by the province.

“The ministry is reviewing the proposal and looks forward to working collaboratively with the municipality,” said Jensen.

Kitchener-Conestoga MPP Mike Harris met with members of the ministry in January to discuss the issue.

“The ministry is aware that this has been asked previously,” said Harris. “And they’re certainly up for continuing the discussion and figuring out what a more long-term solution is going forward in the future.

“It’s obviously not as cut-and-dry as just ‘having the region take over’ – there’s more that’s involved,” said Harris. “But I think to keep that discussion moving forward. Obviously, discussions you have with the previous government aren’t going to be the same as you would have with a different incoming government, so I look forward to continuing those discussions and making sure that we’re putting our best foot forward for the Waterloo Region.”

Another move to improve EMS services in the region is to transfer the dispatchers from Hamilton back to the original Cambridge location.

“We’re hoping to have the responsibility from Hamilton back to the Cambridge location within the next couple of months is what we’re aiming for,” said Harris. “Part of the problem with having the location in Cambridge was that there was a staffing issue – so making sure that we have staffing and we have everybody trained.”

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