BY PAUL MANTELLA
The Ontario government is considering a proposal this month to put paramedics on firetrucks and to allow them to drop patients off at places other than hospitals.
The main goal of the bill is to improve response times.
Right now paramedics may only drop people off at hospitals, no matter the type or severity of emergency. The proposal will allow them to drop patients off at other care facilities or treat and release.
“We recognize we’re not doing the healthcare system any favours by, one, obligating, and two, necessitating paramedic transport of patients simply to emergency rooms,” said Geoff MacBride, former president of the Ontario and Toronto paramedic associations, “And there are obviously many other ways that patients could be receiving assistance that would be far more equitable and beneficial to our system.”
Patients, however, are split on the move. “I personally think that’s not a good idea,” said Sheridan student Sydney Borton, who has been in the hospital for mental health related reasons, “Mental health patients especially tend to be afraid of the idea of being admitted to hospital, and I feel as though having that option would cause people to downplay how bad their situation is in order to not be admitted.”
The province said in a news release that taking patients to places other than the hospital, such as a mental health facility, would address their needs better. Also, many psychiatric wards, such as one in London operating at 140 per cent capacity, are overcrowded and sending patients to other facilities may free up space.
Many people also favour the idea. “There have been times where in the time it takes for them to get there I’ve gotten better,” said Mississauga business owner Marie Clendenning, who called an ambulance after an allergy attack in June. “What’s the point of going to the hospital then?”
The proposal also looks to put paramedics on firetrucks, a move which is opposed by paramedics and municipalities.
The move is very unpopular among paramedics. “This is in no way a solution to any problems that exist,” says MacBride. “It will only create problems that will cause greater challenges for labour relations issues, but also for continuity of care.”
He also says that attempts to combine the services in Alberta failed completely and ended up costing three times more than service would have otherwise.
Firefighters are on municipal payroll whereas paramedics are half paid by the province. There is concern among municipalities that the so-called “fire-medic” system could put paramedics on municipal payroll.
Even firefighters are not united on the issue, with the Ontario Association of Fire Chiefs opposing the move.
Critics say the firefighters’ union is supporting the proposal partly to preserve their position in a time of declining fire calls.
“For the first time ever fire services… are seeing a reduction in staffing of firefighters,” said MacBride, “The Ontario Professional Firefighters Association is looking at ways to recoup that work.”
Despite his opposition to the fire-medics portion of the proposal he says it is a “two out of three win” and could have a positive impact on patient care in Ontario.