Jeff Green | Jan 13, 2016

“We always said that county staff wanted to close the Denbigh base, and now we have proof,” said Addington Highlands Reeve Henry Hogg at a meeting of AH council on Monday night, January 11.

His comments referred to a report that he received last Thursday from Lennox and Addington County staff in preparation for a working meeting of Lennox and Addington Council this week.

Hogg, along with Deputy Reeve Helen Yanch, sit on L&A Council along with two members each from Loyalist and Stone Mills townships and the City of Napanee.

The proposal in the report to L&A Council from Chief of Emergency Services Mark Schjerning calls for the transfer of the remaining 12-hour day shift at the Denbigh base to a new 12-hour night shift at a base in Loyalist Township. It also calls for the establishment of a new service based in Centreville, in Stone Mills Township, noting that average response times in Stone Mills are higher than anywhere else in the township. The report also notes that average response times were up by 12 seconds county-wide in 2014 as compared to 2013.

One of the arguments against the continuing existence of the Denbigh base is the calculation of the price per service call. Since staffing costs per shift are the same no matter how many times the ambulance is called out, the busiest station, in Napanee, has a cost of $743 per call, while the Denbigh base, with only 190 calls per year, has a cost of almost $4,200 per call.

To make the finances even worse, a high percentage of Denbigh calls, 44% (84) are cross-border calls, mostly to Renfrew and Frontenac County, and the compensation paid by neighbouring municipalities for cross-border calls is low, only $350 per call. Ultimately the result is that 44% of the calls to the Denbigh Ambulance generate only 3.5% of the $800,000 cost of operating the base, of which the provincial government provides just under half of the money. L&A ratepayers pay the rest.

“The problem with the way ambulance service is delivered is that dispatch is done on a seamless basis, but there are boundaries where funding is concerned,” said Councilor Tony Fritsch, who added that he has contacted local community activists in Denbigh to let them know that the closing of the Denbigh base is back in front of L&A Council.

When the fate of the Denbigh base hung in the balance in 2012, politicians from Addington Highland were joined by their compatriots from Renfrew County in an attempt to find a regional solution, because the removal of the Denbigh service would create a geographical gap. It presently fills the gap between the Renfrew base to the north-east, the Bancroft base to the west, and the Northbrook base to the south. Nothing came of those efforts, and the base was downgraded from a 24-hour a day operation to a 12-hour a day operation at that time.

“County staff wanted to close the Denbigh base in 2012, and it was all we could do to convince them to keep the base open at all. So it does not surprise me that they are trying again, not at all. They pointed to a study by the IBI group back in 2012,and said they were only following the study's recommendations. There has been no new study so we know that this is something that the staff want,” said Reeve Henry Hogg.

In the report, staff list four options for enhancement to ambulance service in the county. The options are listed in order of priority. Number 1 is to increase the Loyalist coverage to a 24/7 service; number 2 is to establish a 12/7 daytime service in Stone Mills; number 3 is to increase coverage in Napanee by adding a second night shift; and the 4th option is to increase Stone Mills' coverage to 24 hours a day.

The report says, “Staff believes that these enhancements are a higher priority than maintaining coverage at the Denbigh base.”

It also says that staff are not seeking “a final determination of a plan for the ambulance service” but rather a “direction regarding the allocation of funding” for the 2016 budget.

(adendum - The staff report was tabled at a meeting of Lennox and Addington County Council on Wednesday, January 13. After a lengthy discussion, the Warden and Chief Administrative Officer were tasked with contacting their counterparts in Frontenac, Renfrew and Hastings Counties to seek regional funding support to keep the Denbugh base up and running.

"The politicains on County Council do not want to close the Denbigh base, at least as far as I can tell, but the other counties's did not come through the last time they were asked, so I don't hold out that much hope they will now," said Addington Highlands Reeve Henry Hogg in a telephone interview with The Frontenac News on January 14th.)

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