Province keeps municipalities guessing: Is paramedic funding down or up?

By Roderick Benns

Province keeps municipalities guessing: Is paramedic funding down or up?
Photo courtesy of City of Kawartha Lakes.

It hasn’t been easy for municipalities to get a handle on this current provincial government when it comes to funding, whether for paramedic services, childcare, Ontario Works, and more.

Communication has been unclear and sometimes contradictory. The Province has sent mixed signals on cuts, promising to slay a deficit that grew under two previous Liberal governments, solely by cutting “red tape.” At the same time they’ve promised to avoid the kinds of egregious cuts made by Ontario Conservatives in the Mike Harris years.

Take paramedic funding, for example. In the July issue of the Advocate we reported that the City was facing a shortfall of $400,000 for Kawartha Lakes Paramedic Services. At the recent Association of Municipalities of Ontario meeting where Premier Doug Ford spoke, he declared that paramedic funding across Ontario would get a 4% boost.

So which is it? Or have all the cuts just been delayed for a while?

Chief Administrative Officer Ron Taylor for the City says they are “still waiting on confirmation regarding the net impact this recent announcement will have on 2020 paramedic funding.”

“The announcement of a 4% boost in funding is across the entire province-wide portfolio,” Taylor adds, so it’s unclear how the money is specifically allocated.

It was only a few weeks ago when Taylor acknowledged in an interview with the Advocate that the City would have to dip into the $5 million reserve to preserve the current level of paramedic funding. The reserve would also help cushion other known major cuts by the Ford government, such as an $850,000 cut to childcare and a $240,000 cut to Ontario Works.

(The City’s reserve was approved by Council through a $1 million budget surplus and a one-time gas tax doubling by the federal government of $4 million.)

Getting Older

The City of Kawartha Lakes is aging rapidly. Calls for paramedic services are increasing annually, meaning more investment will be needed, not less.

“Much of our demographic is older and in many cases we are dealing with the chronically incapacitated, so ambulances are tied up,” explains interim Chief Andrew Rafton.

Both Rafton and Taylor agreed that simply looking for red tape at the local level could not possibly yield the kind of savings that would be needed to make up for consistently lower shortfalls. The reserve money will cushion the City’s paramedic budget this time. But should the Ford government be looking for annual cuts of $400,000 after the 2020 budget, something more structural would have to change.

The biggest money and time saving idea that paramedic services have been pushing for years is to fix the dispatch system. Right now, ambulances are constantly being tied up in having to offload patients to Ross Memorial Hospital whenever there’s a 911 call.

If patients could be triaged differently, according to their needs, such as to places like medical clinics or long term care homes, it would substantially free up ambulances for service because they wouldn’t have to wait around at busy hospitals, waiting for patients to be accepted.

In the meantime, according to Taylor, the City will be looking forward to clearer communication from the Province on this, and other, funding.

“Kawartha Lakes is expecting a written update from the health ministry in the coming weeks,” says Taylor.

As for rumours the PC government was considering privatizing paramedic services, Taylor says this doesn’t appear to be the case.

Kawartha Lakes Mayor Andy Letham met with Minister Christine Elliott at the AMO conference and was “pleased to hear that the Province was not considering privatization service models going forward.”

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