The Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) has learned that the current “call back” system in London and Middlesex County resulted in a resident waiting 23 minutes for an ambulance after calling 911 last week. Details of the call are confidential but officials say the patient survived. Under the current system, paramedics keep a pager with them after 7 pm in case of a call, and have 8 minutes to get to an ambulance base after they are paged.
OPSEU believes that those 8 minutes are precious in an emergency, and are wasted if they are spent simply driving to the ambulance base. Local 147 President Scott Simpson says this system is archaic.
“We are the only county that has this system in place in southern Ontario. Everybody else has seen that this doesn’t work and that they needed to go with 24 hour staffing and paramedics on site 24 hours a day in order to respond to their truck within 60 seconds instead of 8 minutes.”
He worries about someone losing their life because the ambulance took too long to arrive, especially in rural areas.
“If you are having a heart attack any time after 7 o’clock at night out in the county and you have to wait for eight minutes for your ambulance crew just to respond to their truck, they’re not going to be there in time to be able to do anything for you.”
Simpson says the solution to long response times is to throw away the pagers and have staff awake and on duty 24 hours a day, but the budget is an issue.
“It would be a matter of hiring between 12 and 16 paramedics and that would be sufficient. One of the major problems that we have is that they keep telling us they don’t have enough money to hire paramedics, yet since the county took over the EMS system three years ago they’ve hired six managers at $125 000 a year.”
The union is calling on the newly elected County Council members to re-examine how emergency services are delivered, noting that smaller counties with less money have put an end to what OPSEU calls an “unacceptable and dangerous practice.”