Peterborough city and county officials have voiced concern over news that the Ontario government will not be giving municipalities any extra money for paramedic services in 2019.
Right now, the province splits the cost of paramedic services 50-50 with municipalities, however Ontario’s contribution will roll back to 2017 funding allocation levels.
“This gave an absolute surprise to all services across the province,” said chief Randy Mellow of Peterborough Paramedics. “We weren’t anticipating this freeze, in-fact we were relying on the increase in the budget.”
This year, Peterborough Paramedics has hired eight full-time paramedics and has rolled out a new 24-hour ambulance based out of Lakefield to service the northern part of the county.
That is part of its 2019 budget of roughly $16 million, half of which would be covered by the province.
Municipalities received a provincial funding increase of 5.8 per cent in 2017 and 5.3 per cent in 2018.
“We’re always fighting an uphill battle on response times and offload delays at the hospital,” said J. Murray Jones, warden for Peterborough County. “Now, it’s been announced the funding is going back to 2017 numbers, which, again, is another huge financial impact to the county and city. It’s something else we need to deal with and should be consulted about.”
Peterborough Coun. Dean Pappas, who is also the city’s finance chair, expressed worry about the funding rollback as well.
“My concerns are what happened before when the province touched ambulances. They downloaded most of the service onto municipalities,” said Pappas. “At the time, they said they would pay half, but that didn’t happen until four years ago. As of Tuesday, we didn’t really have any information on what these cuts mean for the City of Peterborough.”
He added: “In the Constitution of Canada, health care is a provincial responsibility. Property taxes are not meant for health care; they are designed for property issues.”
The city’s portion of the paramedic budget for 2019 is $4.88 million, or a 1.9 per cent increase over the 2018 budget.
Peterborough’s paramedic service, which serves both the city and the county, has 128 paramedics and 12 administrative personnel on staff.
The city and county share the paramedic budget, with the city paying 58.62 per cent of the total cost. The remaining portion is funded by the province.
“Anything we do will focus on maintaining the level of patient care we have now. That’s our focus going forward,” added Mellow.
The province has already announced plans to restructure dispatch services in Ontario – consolidating 22 into 10.
There have also been talks about restructuring ambulance services, but Mellow says it’s a wait and see at this point.
“We’ve been assured through the Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO), that a very robust consultation will occur. We’re confident they have our back going into this. If there is a change to the system, we will be a part of the design,” added Mellow.
In an email to Global News, the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care said:
“Our government is providing municipalities with stable land ambulance service funding this year after several years of significant increases. Municipalities received a 5.8 per cent increase in land ambulance service funding in 2017 with an extra 5.3 per cent increase in funding in 2018. Our government is providing stable funding this year, with no change in funding from last year.
At the same time, we are investing in reducing the time it takes to provide critical emergency care and are empowering paramedics to improve the already great care they provide each and every day. This includes the ability to safely and responsibly determine if there is a more appropriate care setting for patients to receive treatment other than an emergency department, such as a mental health crisis centre.”