In early December, the Ford government closed and relocated the Cambridge Ambulance Communication Centre to Hamilton due to a staffing crisis. This service was responsible for dispatching ambulances to the Waterloo, Guelph, and Wellington County areas. The closure left emergency responders and families worried that an ambulance would not be readily available in times of need. These decisions have made it more and more difficult for local Kitchener-Waterloo families to access the hospital care that they need.
In a parliamentary debate between Waterloo NDP MPP, Catherine Fife, and the Ontario Minister of Health and Long-Term Care, Christine Elliott, Fife asked the provincial government for permission for the Region of Waterloo to take over the Cambridge Ambulance Communication Centre. They also requested 100 per cent of ambulance dispatch operations be covered by provincial funding.
Fife brought up the reality that, although the ambulance dispatch was relocated due to a “staffing crisis,” the crisis has actually been a long-term issue since June 2018. Workers had been leaving due to stress and since then, the Ministry of Health has done almost nothing to address the issue. They took six weeks to release new postings for positions and have not addressed the wage gap between dispatchers, culminating in a high staff turnover.
Moreover, the new Hamilton dispatch was not equipped with auto-location and an ambulance ended up arriving at the wrong location. Consequently, first responders lost precious time that was crucial upon their arrival and in caring for the victim, who showed no vital signs. There was another concern that the Hamilton staff were not trained enough either.
Elliott responded that the Ministry is “working to modernize and change the system,” in order to make sure people are safe at every place along their healthcare journey. Her response to Fife’s request to take over the Cambridge Ambulance Communication Centre was unclear, as she merely repeated her statement of modernization and technology incorporation in healthcare. Currently, the Region of Waterloo is still waiting to hear back from the Ministry regarding the proposal.
The debate stems from both a municipal standpoint and a provincial standpoint, and party leaders differ in their goals for the community. The Waterloo NDP Party advocates for social change and wants to make sure the community is getting the healthcare that they deserve. However, the Conservative Party of Ontario’s focus is on budgeting and making sure that immediate solutions are brought forth to address a financial crisis.
On the one hand, the Region of Waterloo should get to take control of their own ambulance dispatch, as land ambulance dispatch centres in Toronto, Ottawa, Timmins, and the Region of Niagara are operated by their respective municipalities, but in Waterloo, it is still operated by the province. On the other hand, concerns brought up by the provincial government regarding modernization and technological incorporation are important as well. A large point of debate was the fact that Hamilton’s dispatch currently lacks auto-location. However, this auto-location technology only works from landline calls (which makes up only 25 per cent of the calls received anyway). Thus, perhaps the Conservatives are looking at a bigger picture of truly integrating today’s technology to create a better world with the best accessible healthcare.
Apart from the ambulance dispatch closure, hospital cuts in the Kitchener-Waterloo region are also leaving families worried about accessible healthcare as well. Recently, the Grand River Hospital’s $7.4 million budget shortfall ended in many nurses being laid off and the closure of several mental health beds causing families to be worried about hospital wait times.
“Families were already waiting too long for hospital care while our front-line caregivers are run off their feet,” Catherine Fife, said. “Years of Liberal hospital budget cuts and funding freezes created this mess and now, the Conservatives are making things even worse.”
In fact, Kitchener-Waterloo families are losing out on almost 50,000 hours of care per year because of these layoffs, now, the Region of Waterloo is demanding that the government do something about the issue, because families deserve the right to timely health care. News awaits of the provincial government’s response to these pressing health care matters.