Paramedics could be on Peel streets 39,000 hours less next year following budget cut
When you dial 911 to help a loved one in a medical crisis, will the ambulance get there on time? A report from Peel Region’s commissioner of health services suggests that what amounts to a $4.9 million cut to paramedic services next year heightens the risk that it won’t.
Ontario’s Ministry of Health told Peel Region in May that funding for ambulance service for 2019-2020 won’t increase from the previous year, effectively slashing the budget by that amount after inflation and cost of living adjustments.
Health commissioner Nancy Polsinelli’s report says the deficit will result in a reduction of 39,000 service hours for paramedics for 2020, severely affecting response times and the capacity to attend to multiple emergencies.
In stark contrast, emergency calls have proliferated rapidly in the fast-growing region, increasing by 8 to 9 percent a year between 2016 and 2019. Polsinelli extrapolates that the number of calls will reach 400 a day by the end of 2019, adding significant pressure to the service and impeding efficient responses.
“A reduction in provincial funding will further strain the capacity of Paramedic Services and impact service care outcomes for residents,” the report says, suggesting that the service may not be able to keep with the surge in calls.
Brampton Councillor Pat Fortini said the province should be doing the opposite, especially in Peel: “The population is growing; we should be raising the budget.”
Peel Region Council followed up Thursday on the report’s recommendation to seek relief, voting to have Chair Nando Iannicca write to Minister of Health Christine Elliott, asking to defer the decision to stall increases to assure the shortfall doesn’t adversely affect the region’s residents.
Costs of paramedic services are supposed to be borne equally by the province and the regional government. However, Peel’s share has been increasing and reached approximately 53 percent last year, owing to the constant need to add resources to the system, the report said. It’s estimated that Peel’s share will climb to 56.7 percent if the provincial funding remains stagnant.
Councillor Pat Fortini
The shortfall could affect several programs. Advanced Care Paramedic (ACP) program training — funded by Peel Region — provides training that helps paramedics offer a higher level of care. The funding shortfall could lead to not renewing an agreement with Humber College, which offers this training.
Another program area that may be cut back is mental health training and education for support staff, which the report warns could damage staff retention, leaving the service short-staffed.
The changes to funding for paramedics are part of a broader move by the provincial government under Doug Ford to reform the healthcare system, under claims that the changes will bring greater efficiencies and end “hallway healthcare” — a term to denote hospitals so overcrowded that patients end up parked in hallways. Those reforms include intentions to consolidate Ontario’s 52 paramedic services into 10 large centres. The governing PCs have not said how their plan intends to boost the efficiency of services through the integration.
Services provided by the consolidated paramedic centres would span across much wider jurisdictions, raising the potential to increase the time it takes to reach the scene of an emergency. Questions about that remain unanswered.
The report suggests the projected funding deficit could rise to as much as $6 million in 2020 depending on inflation.
“We hope that information like this would cause the provincial government to second-guess their cuts. Municipal cuts have real consequences,” Mayor Patrick Brown said after the meeting. “Frankly, the premier shouldn’t be trying to manage his financial mess at Queen’s Park by putting [it on] the backs of municipalities. It would mean a reduction in paramedic service. These cuts really affect people.”
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