| Sep 22, 2011

Lennox & Addington Council has decided to seek a new home for the Northbrook ambulance base, and a request for proposal for a piece of land located on Highway 41 between Northbrook and Denbigh will be set out this week.

That was the easy part for the council.

It was also relatively easy for them to decide to stop sending the Northbrook ambulance to Tamworth on standby when both Napanee cars are out on calls, a practice that resulted in only 2 service calls last year and 5 in 2009.

It will be more difficult, wrenching even, for them to come to grips with the recommendation of a consultant’s report to close the Denbigh base and replace it with one in Loyalist Township, halfway between Kingston and Napanee. That recommendation will be considered at a meeting in late October, at the earliest.

The Denbigh issue was front and centre at last Wednesday's (September 14) Council meeting in Napanee.

In a presentation to L&A Council, L&A Emergency Services Co-ordinator Mark Schjerning pointed out that more than half of the calls that were answered by the Denbigh ambulance emanated from outside of Lennox and Addington, and while L&A recoups money for those calls through a cross-border agreement, that money is minimal as compared to the cost of keeping the base up and running.

L&A receives about $400 for every cross-border call it makes out of Denbigh, and their cost per call is about $3,500.

Shjerning also pointed out that the paramedics stationed at Denbigh spend a lot of time waiting for calls that do not come.

“In 2010, all told, about 1/3 of the shifts at Denbigh were what we call empty envelope shifts; in other words, over a 12-hour shift there were no calls to the station,” he said. “When this is expressed on a cost-per call basis, each call becomes very expensive.”

The preferred alternative that Schjerning presented, according to the report that was prepared by the IBI group out of Toronto, is the consolidation of northern services in the Northbrook/Cloyne area and the establishment of a new base in Loyalist Township. Currently, most of the calls from Loyalist Township are answered by the ambulance operated by Frontenac County, which is housed in a base on Justus Drive in the western part of Kingston.

“We cannot guarantee that the ambulance will be waiting at the base on Justus Drive to come to Loyalist,” said Shjerning, “it can be moved to downtown Kingston on standby.”

The impact of a new Loyalist Township-based service would be to cut response times from an average of about 20 to about 10 minutes per call for the 1,000 or so calls each year in that region.

On the other hand, closing Denbigh would result in over 80% of the calls in that region taking between 30 and 60 minutes for a response,” according to the IBI report.

County Warden Henry Hogg, who is also the Reeve of Addington Highlands, took a look at some of the mapping provided by Shjerning, and said that many response times will be even longer than the 30-60 minute window envisioned by IBI. He asked Shjerning what speeds were used to project the response times.

“We based those estimates on an average speed of 100 km/hour,” said Schjerning.

“Having driven the roads around Denbigh for the past 35 years, I challenge anyone to average 100 kilometres an hour, so your response times are not accurate,” Hogg said.

A middle ground proposal was also brought forward by Mark Shjerning. It involves keeping a limited 12 hour a day service open in Denbigh at an ambulance post, which is less expensive to build than a full-sized ambulance base. However, while simply closing Denbigh and opening a base in Loyalist Township would not increase the global cost of the system, keeping a limited service in Denbigh would mean an increase in costs, and ultimately, an increased tax burden on L&A ratepayers,

“As I understand it,” said L&A Council member, and Loyalist Township Deputy Mayor, Ric Bresee, “in an environment where we have fixed resources, this change will provide a 10 minute improvement in response time for a thousand calls and will slow response time by 30 minutes for a smaller number of calls, maybe 50 to 100. To me that is the nature of the decision we are called to make now. With the addition of funds we could start to change that spectrum but just on the flat line of the resources we have to use now, that is the call we have to make. I don't want to make that call.”

Addington Highlands Deputy Reeve Bill Cox wondered how this entire scenario had come about. “All we needed to do was find a location to build a Northbrook base. Whose idea was it to do a new study? We just did one three years ago, and nothing has changed. Why is this happening now?” he asked.

“Because we are now facing building a new base for Northbrook, it means we will be in a fixed location for a long time, so we thought it only prudent to look down the road before making that sort of commitment,” said County Chief Administrator Larry Keech.

Keech then said that council need not rush into a decision on the Denbigh/Loyalist Township issue.

“This is a very weighty issue both for Loyalist and Denbigh. It should not be made in haste and council should feel all of their questions are answered. We look to council for the next step,” he said, “but we don’t want it to be necessarily forgotten either.”

Council asked for more detail about response times in Loyalist Township, and will look further at the matter next month.

There is no fixed time frame for a final decision.


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