Health Care Estimates - Asking for the planned closure of ambulance station in Boisevain to be reconsidered
Monday April 16th I asked the Minister of Health, in Estimates to reconsider his plans to close the ambulance station in Boissevain. This station is badly needed, and as I heard last Saturday the presence of the ambulance station in Boissevain has already saved at least one life - that of Mr. Garnet Holmes.
Hon. Jon Gerrard (River Heights): My question to the Minister of Health–Saturday I was in Boissevain at a public meeting talking about health care. They have been concerned about the proposed loss of their ambulance station there and they presented to me the case of why that particular ambulance station should not be closed.
They are on a major highway–No. 10. They have a million vehicles coming through in a year. They serve critical areas like the Peace Gardens which are due south and which have many people visiting in the summer. In winter, what may normally be a 20 minute drive for an adjacent community can become two or three times this if the weather conditions are poor. I was given the example of an individual [Mr Garnet Holmes] who would have died if there was no ambulance service in Boissevain because of the reaction time that was needed to help him.
They told me that this sort of rearrangement has been tried with the RCMP services, which are no longer based in Boissevain. They tell me that the result is that if there's an accident, their experience is that the RCMP are always the very last to arrive under the current circumstances because they are no longer close.
Their current response time average is I'm told six minutes.
One of the advantages of having the ambulance station there is that the paramedics are able to assist with medical procedures or emergencies in the hospital when things are very busy. They feel that the on-call system there is actually working very well for that area.
So I made the case and I wonder if the minister would reconsider the decision to close the Boissevain ambulance centre.
Mr. Goertzen: You know, so the issue of the 2013 Toews report is about following evidence. And the evidence that Mr. Toews provided was that it is paramedics that respond to emergencies, not stations that respond to emergencies.
The evidence that he provided–and that data has been updated through the data of the 911 call centre– is that if you have those regional hubs, where paramedics essentially, you know, come in and get ready, and then they go out in their ambulances and they're geo-posted in the different areas by virtue of past history, that you get better response times overall.
Does that cause individual communities concern? I know that it does. Now the member opposite has put on many words of record in support of the EMS report. He demanded that the former government move more quickly with the recommendations.
When we came into government, one of the first questions he asked was demanding that we move more quickly with the recommendations of the Toews report, and now he has sort of taken a bit of a different tack by going community to community and saying he's not in favour of the Toews report.
Now maybe I'm wrong. I've only heard him come and say, you know, don't convert these stations. Maybe there are specific stations which he thinks should be closed down in accordance with the Toews report, and he can put that on the record.
Or maybe he's doing what opposition sometimes does and is changing his position entirely, doing a 180 and going where he's able to speak to people who he can speak to, but the report was driven by evidence. It's about ensuring that there are more full-time paramedics available, not just in Westman but in particularly Westman.
We've committed to 60 new paramedics in this–full-time paramedics in this budget. I think you'll hear more about that, in terms of what impact it's going to have in Westman, in terms of their placement. I think we've committed to the communities that they're going to see the hiring of these new paramedics prior to some of the changes.
So it won't be like, you know, maybe some of the past things where they were promised that things would happen and they didn't happen. We're hiring these paramedics in advance of some of the changes, so they'll, hopefully, be able to see that.
I'm not sure that the comparison with the RCMP, although I'm sensitive to the loss of RCMP in rural communities because I know many rural communities where that was the case, I'm not sure that it's analogous. A large part of the loss of RCMP that happened over the last couple of decades in rural communities was the underfunding of the federal Liberal government when it came to rural RCMP.
The member might know that himself, being a member of that government. The loss of those RCMP officers in those communities was such that they weren't replaced with something else.
This is the hiring of many more paramedics, to be placed in a region, to be able to respond more quickly.
So I'm not sure that there's a direct-line analogy between moving RCMP and underfunding the RCMP in rural Manitoba, as was done by the former Chrétien Liberal government. There's not a direct‑line comparison between this government hiring 60 new paramedics this year, in addition to the new paramedics who were hired last year.
In fact, it was the president of the Paramedic Association–or, the former president of the Paramedic Association, Eric Glass, who said he'd never seen–never seen–such a commitment to paramedics in the history of our province as this government has undertaken.
So I recognize there are concerns by communities in Westman, not just Boissevain, but certainly we've heard those concerns. I've heard those concerns expressed on behalf of the local representative, who's a strong advocate for all things within their region.
We’ve provided some of the evidence, but, more than that, we'll provide clear understanding, as we go forward, that there'll be new paramedics that are hired first, so that they can–residents in the Westman area can see the commitment that this government has to building a predictable, effective and full-time response system for paramedics in the Westman area.