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County unsure spending millions on ambulance stations is way to go

Paramedic Service chief Stephen Dewar said the relocation and replacement of five ambulance stations could improve response times by a minute in rural areas but some county councillors remain doubtful a minute is worth millions

WELLINGTON ‒ County council remains divided over the necessity of five new ambulance stations and their impact on rural response times in Wellington County. 

Stephen Dewar, chief of the Guelph-Wellington Paramedic Service, said the relocation and replacement of five ambulance stations across Wellington County proposed in the capital budget would have a positive influence on ambulance response times in rural areas. 

Dewar made the point in a new report on ambulance response times, presented during the social services committee meeting Wednesday evening.

This follows several members of county council not wanting to invest $45.5 million until more updated information was available on the new stations impact on response times at a special meeting of county council about the 2024 budget and 10-year plan in October

"If paramedics need to leave the area because they simply can't shower or clean themselves after a call and they don't have facilities at their station, then there's a lag time before they get back on the road," said Dewar. "The improvement in space and amenities can be expected to have an indirect positive impact on paramedic response times." 

Coun. Campbell Cork suggested new targets geared specifically for rural areas as a way to improve response times.

"We have a unique set of situations and I think we should have unique targets if we're going to say targets are important," said Cork."So that when we get a report like this, we don't get three years in a row where we haven't met the targets that are apparently impossible to meet out in Wellington County."

One of three municipalities flagged for a new ambulance station despite its low call volumes, County Coun. Jeff Duncan said Erin's residents often choose to take matters into their own hands rather than wait 30 to 40 minutes for an ambulance to show up.

"A lot of (Erin) residents will just drive themselves to their nearest local hospital," said Duncan. "The low call volumes are not because we're overly healthy, there's that reality of travel." 

But Warden Andy Lennox maintained county council's ask for "more refined" data on how additional ambulance stations can improve response times, especially in a post-COVID 19 landscape.

"I think the message I heard loud and clear (during county council) was...first and foremost we want to make sure response times are taken care of before we worry about spending on capital facilities," said Lennox, during the meeting. "There's still more information needed here and I'd like to better understand where we should be investing our tax dollars to get the greatest benefit for our residents. 

According to Lennox, a representative from the paramedic union reached out about the ambulance stations earlier this month which Lennox called 'unusual."

Isabel Buckmaster is the Local Journalism Initiative reporter for GuelphToday. LJI is a federally-funded program.

About the Author: Isabel Buckmaster, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Isabel Buckmaster covers Wellington County under the Local Journalism Initiative, which is funded by the Government of Canada
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