Winnipeg's current ambulance system can't keep up with demand for calls, says fire and paramedic chief
An ambulance is shown in a file photo. (CP24)
WINNIPEG -- The Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service can no longer afford to respond to calls in an episodic fashion due to growing demand, according to a new report.
“Our whole focus on the strategic direction is preparing to meet that future need, as well as making sure that we’re meeting a current need and we are not meeting our current need based on the resources that were given by our contractor,” says Fire and Paramedic Chief John Lane.
Lane presented the report to the city’s standing policy committee on protection, community services and parks on Monday, highlighting the fact that call volumes have significantly increased over the last several years.
“It very clearly shows that the service continues to get busier year over year over year,” he says, noting that every year they see the effects of increasing pressure from a growing population and growing call volume.
The report states that since 2011 call volumes have increased by 20 per cent, but says the WFPS has been working with limited resources. It adds that this is effecting response times, staff well-being and resource availability.
“It is very dramatic to just how busy the service is,” Lane says.
“It becomes a matter of the vast majority of the calls in the province, the EMS calls in the province, are being done by a very small portion of the fleet and of the workforce.”
The report also notes that in 2020 the WFPS is set to return five ambulances that have reached end-of-life to the fleet management provider. These are the only remaining ambulances owned by the city, and the provincial fleet program has not yet scheduled any replacements.
Lane says the WFPS wanted to keep these five ambulances and though Shared Health approved this decision, the allocation of ambulances is Manitoba Health’s responsibility and it did not agree to keep the ambulances.
“We have yet to resolve the inventory that we need for spare units,” Lane says.
He adds that in 2019, the greater prevalence of methamphetamine in Winnipeg also started to effect the level of violence and unpredictable behavior in the WFPS saw in its patients.
“Even though were the most progressive service in the country when it came to trying to deal with that and the introduction of olanzapine as a potential aid for people who were in the beginning stages of psychosis, even with that the impact of crystal meth has been very, very significant,” Lane says.
Lane says in order to meet the call demand the service needs 10 more 24-hour ambulances, which will “help to bring our unit-hour-utilization down to the level that it should be at.” He notes it also needs a greater expansion of the Emergency Paramedic in the Community (EPIC) program.
“The amount of proactive work and the deferral and avoidance of transports that those paramedics can do through their proactive work in the community is just astounding,” the fire and paramedic chief says, noting they need to expand from two EPIC units to five.
Lane says the WFPS also need increased support resources, including mental health support.
He adds the service is at a pivotal point where one of two things has to happen: either the service demand has to decrease, meaning not responding to low-priority calls, or it needs to increase resources.
In a statement, a Shared Health spokesperson said they are “uninterested” in negotiating a funding agreement through the media.
They say the following facts were not included in the report:
- Manitobans are investing $44.68 million in the WFPS in 2020 and incremental funding increases have gone up by nine per cent over the past two years, well above the rate of inflation;
- A review found five ambulances cited in the 2019 WFPS Operations Report as needing replacement had, in fact, already been replaced (three in 2011, two others in 2017);
- As part of efforts to ensure the service remains affordable and sustainable for years to come, Shared Health has identified billing improvements the city can make to make certain the service submits invoices in a more timely manner to ensure payment is received; and
- We have worked with the WFPS to identify operational improvements that will create capacity within the service to handle increased patient volumes. Those improvements are expected to start rolling out in the coming weeks.
“Shared Health remains committed to ensuring ongoing access to emergency medical services for Winnipeg residents and are working with the city to finalize a new contract,” the statement says. “Those discussions are ongoing."