| Nov 06, 2008

Nov 6/08 - Denbigh Ambulance Report

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Feature Article - November 6, 2008 Denbigh Ambulance report in, decisions to follow.By Jeff Green

It's all laid out in charts, graphs, a variety of options and cost projections, but the one thing the 68-page Ambulance Service and Organizational Review for Lennox and Addington does not do is make the hard decisions about the future of the service provided out of the Northbrook and Denbigh ambulance bases.

Those decisions will hinge on the recommendations that county staff bring back to L&A County Council, as well as on potential cross border arrangements to be negotiated with Renfrew and Frontenac counties, and ultimately on political decisions by county council itself.

The report takes a comprehensive look at the service in the entire county, and in terms of the northern service it recommends that the way paramedics are accredited and paid be amalgamated between the south and north, which the consultants estimate would increase the cost of providing the northern service by $1 million per year.

The report lays out four options for service in the north in the future.

Option #1 would see the maintenance of the status quo, a 24-hour ambulance at both the Northbrook and Denbigh stations. Option #2 would see a repositioning of both bases to be closer to neighbouring counties, Frontenac for Northbrook, and Renfrew for Denbigh, with partnership agreements to help pay for the cost of the service.

Option #3 would see a reduction of the Denbigh base to a daytime 12-hour shift, and option #4 would see the “elimination of one of the two northern bases and the repositioning of the other to a location more or less equidistant between the existing two”.

“The preferred scenario,” says the report “is that 24/7 ambulance service coverage be maintained at Denbigh and Northbrook. To sustain this level of coverage at Denbigh and Northbrook, and to avoid the entire future increase in cost falling onto the local tax base, the county will have to aggressively pursue new/additional sources of funding.”

The county submitted a business case to the Ministry of Health for the ministry to cover 50% of the increased costs that may be incurred by keeping the two bases open because they serve a wide, under-populated rural area, but the Ministry did not approve the case.

Of the 643 calls to the Northbrook station last year, 36% were from locations outside of the county, and 25% of the total calls (161) were from Frontenac County.

For Denbigh, 59% of the 222 calls were from outside L&A, with 28% (63 calls) coming from Frontenac County, and 23% (53 calls) coming from Renfrew County. The Eastern Ontario Treasurers Association has been looking at cross border billing for ambulance service, and recommends that a value of $170 be established for each call.

The consultant’s report says that the treasurers realised that this figure is inadequate for areas such as Northbrook and Denbigh, where because of geography and low call volumes, the cost average per call can exceed $1,000.

“For such situations, the Eastern Ontario Treasurers recommended that the neighbouring municipalities should review and implement a deployment strategy to ensure that one municipality is not carrying an unreasonable burden providing service to a neighbouring municipality.”

The organisational review is full of data and was written carefully. It does not push one option or another. That will be left to the ambulance managers and the politicians in three counties to figure out.

Meanwhile, the ad hoc Denbigh Ambulance Service Committee that sprung up last spring, as well as Addington Highlands Council, and L&A County Council, have been spending some time reading and studying the report.

In an interview with the News, Tom Bedford, the Manager of Emergency Services for the County, said that county staff is putting into place several recommendations in the report, including informing the province and neighbouring counties about the contents of the report and the role that the L&A service needs them to play in order to maintain the level of service in the north.

It will take some time before residents of Denbigh and Northbrook will know what the future holds for their local ambulance service.

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