| Jul 12, 2012

Editorial by Jeff Green

There was a time when Denbigh was a pilot project for volunteer ambulance service in Eastern Ontario and the province as a whole.

The distances were as great then as they are now, and it was recognised by the Ministry of Health that just like fire service, people in rural regions need an ambulance to arrive within a reasonable amount of time.

So, Ministry of Health officials trained community volunteers in a variety of First Response techniques, and then gave them a vehicle and off they went.

There have been many changes over the last 30 years in ambulance service.

Over time, the volunteers who ran the volunteer services became more like lower paid professional paramedics and the volunteer model fell into disrepute. The Denbigh service is now on the verge of being operated just like all the other professional services in Lennox and Addington County.

Another major change took place when land ambulance service became a municipal operation, after having previously been a core provincial service. The province still pays almost half the costs, but municipalities run the service and it is a major budget item in rural municipal budgets.

Just as it would not be viable for the model of urban fire departments to be imposed on rural reality - the cost would be just too high - running rural and urban ambulance service on the identical financial model is proving to be too expensive.

The Denbigh service that originally cost $12,000 per year to the Ontario Ministry of Health, now is projected to cost over $1 million per year, half of that coming from municipal taxes in Lennox and Addington.

It was all that Addinton Highlands politicians could do to salvage a half-time service in Denbigh when a county staff-driven initiative to move the resources from rural Denbigh to suburban Loyalist County took hold at L&A County Council earlier this year.

It is hard to imagine that the original Denbigh service, which involved a massive volunteer commitment, could have persisted in its original form into the modern world of paramedic services. Yet, it is also proving to be impossible to imagine a viable ambulance service providing timely service throughout a vast rural province on the population-based, municipally-funded model that is now in place in Ontario.

The current fiscal arrangement does not foster co-operation among municipal partners, as was evidenced when a plan to turn Denbigh into a new model for the future, that of a regional service serving four counties, failed to receive support from two of those counties.

Appeals to the province to re-engage in rural ambulance service have so far fallen on deaf ears.

So, in the end, a rural community that took a giant leap forward in 1982 by setting up a 24-hour ambulance, has now faced a steep fall backward.

There is a solution.

The Local Health Integration Network is responsible for ambulance service. Only a provincial body can step in and pull the county ambulance services together, and find some provincial dollars to augment municipal commitments to rural service.

Somebody, and it likely has to be somebody from the South East LHIN's office in Belleville or the Ministry of Health itself, needs to call a meeting.

At the 30th Anniversary celebration of the founding of the Denbigh service, there were a number of retired bureaucrats on hand, They were proud of the work they did, and the connections they forged with the local population, when the Denbigh service was set up.

If the bureaucrats at the new-look LHINs would like to be more than a layer of bureaucracy concerned with saving money and ensuring that everyone they fund has filled out the correct forms, they need to jump into this major public health issue, get their hands dirty, and make a difference.


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