Jeff Green | Jun 16, 2011
Henry Hogg has seen this all before.
In 2008, as Reeve of Addington Highlands and member of Lennox and Addington County Council, he had the job of convincing his colleagues on county council that it was important to maintain the ambulance services in Northbrook and Denbigh even though a consultant’s report suggested it was too expensive to operate two bases in the sparsely populated northern end of the county.
At that time, the county sided with Addington Highlands and kept the two bases in operation.
At the same time, a decision was made to integrate the entire L&A County ambulance service into the same professional model. Previously, the northern bases had been what are called ‘volunteer’ services, which pay paramedics at a lower rate. The L&A ambulance service is slated to be fully integrated by 2014, raising the projected costs of running the two northern bases.
The L&A ambulance service rents space for the Northbrook base, and they have been informed that the landlord has other plans for the building after the current lease expires at the end of this month, although the lease can be extended for a time.
To deal with this, an update to the 2008 consultant’s report was ordered, and that report was delivered to L&A County Council last week.
The update deals with a lot more issues than finding a new location for the Northbrook base. It notes that the northern bases are much more costly to operate than they were three years ago, and are even less frequently used.
“Station operating costs for both Northbrook and Denbigh have increased to $700,000 (from $465,000 in 2008) and are projected to increase to $1,033,000 by 2014. Call volumes have declined by about 10%. For Northbrook the cost per call has increased to $1,850 (from $1,100) and for Denbigh it has increased to $5,500 (from $3,100),” says the new report. “In our opinion, it is no longer necessary or financially justifiable to maintain ambulance service operations at both locations.”
The report recommends closing the Denbigh and Northbrook bases, and opening a new base in the Northbrook/Cloyne area. It also recommends building a new base to serve Loyalist Township, which is currently served mostly by Kingston ambulance bases operated by Frontenac County ambulance services. Ambulance calls to Loyalist are billed to L&A County, based on a cross-border agreement.
On a more positive note, the report recommends ending the policy of having northern ambulances go south to Tamworth on standby whenever the Napanee ambulance is called out, which happened twice a day, on average, last year. The report also recommends upgrading the capacity of the system to put Advanced Life Service paramedics in L&A ambulances in the coming years.
Henry Hogg, who has now been the Warden of Lennox and Addington for two years in addition to being Reeve of Addington Highlands, is less than convinced by all of the points raised in the new report.
“The report said that the new Family Health Teams in Northbrook and Denbigh have changed the service environment, but they have little to do with the kind of 24-hour emergency service that people are seeking when they call an ambulance. People call an ambulance to go to a hospital, and hospitals are an hour away from Addington Highlands,” he said.
Hogg said he is not sure that the members of county council will go along with the recommendations.
“I am not convinced that the cross-border service in Loyalist is hurting anyone, and the Denbigh base serves Renfrew and Frontenac County as well as Lennox and Addington. If that base were gone, there would be a large region that would be a long way from any ambulance base,” he said. “This is not a done deal. I’m not sure there is enough support on council for it to proceed,” he said
Ambulance talks “not fruitful”: Meanwhile back in Frontenac County, putting in a northern ambulance base continues to be on hold.
At a Frontenac County Council meeting in May, a proposal by North Frontenac to go ahead with construction of a joint ambulance base/fire hall in Ompah was deferred because details about how the costs will be divided up have not been agreed to. At the time, the direction from county council was for an agreement to be worked on at staff level.
However, talks at a staff level “have not been fruitful”, in the words of North Frontenac Mayor Bud Clayton. Staff have not met in person to work on an agreement.
According to North Frontenac CAO Cheryl Robson, County CAO Liz Savill has informed the township that she has not received specific direction from county council to alter a funding formula calling for two-thirds of the costs to be borne by North Frontenac. Since this change is what North Frontenac had requested in order to move the project forward, the matter must go back to county council, which will not be meeting until July 6.
Mayor Clayton said that he has asked County Warden Gary Davison to call an emergency meeting this month to deal with this, because the construction window for building a base in 2011 is rapidly closing, “but the warden refused to call a meeting,” Clayton said.
In the interim, the potential closing of the Denbigh base may change Frontenac County’s plans entirely, because Frontenac County depends on the Denbigh base to cover its northwest corner.
Paul Charbonneau, the Director of Emergency Services for Frontenac County, said on Tuesday, June 14 that he had just received the report about the future of the Lennox and Addington Service and will be reading it this week.
“It [the report] has not been a factor in anything we have done thus far, because I was not even aware of its existence,” he said, “but that does not mean it won’t become a factor.”