Simcoe County paramedics took to the streets this week.
They joined other paramedics and unions from across the province at Queen’s Park in Toronto on Tuesday afternoon to protest potential changes to EMS services provincewide.
“What we ultimately want is just for the Ford government to agree to consult with the unions, because we’re the ones who represent the front-line workers,” said Cory Schepers, president of OPSEU Local 303, which represents Simcoe County paramedics.
On April 16, an Association of Municipalities Ontario (AMO) 2019 Ontario budget review highlighted that land ambulance dispatch services would be streamlined by integrating Ontario’s 59 emergency health services operators.
A report by the CBC shed more light on the numbers, saying operators would be merged into 10 regional ambulance providers.
While Health Minister Christine Elliott clarified that no paramedic in Ontario would lose their job, local union officials are skeptical.
Schepers said this week in an interview with OrilliaMatters that Simcoe County paramedics haven’t received any information from the provincial government directly.
“That’s where the fear lies,” said Schepers. “At this point, we have been unable to get in to talk with our MPPs. They have told me they will not be able to take any meetings until the end of June.”
“They said they can’t take meetings with special-interest groups until then. They consider unions to be special-interest groups,” he added.
Schepers says that between 2000 and 2001, there was a downloading of paramedic services to county and regional levels.
“At that time, some were municipally run, some were private and some were hospital-run. At that time, they downloaded them all to the upper-tier (regions/counties) to amalgamate services,” he said, adding that York Region, Peel Region and Niagara Region also currently have their paramedic services under this regional model.
“They want to now amalgamate these services further.”
Concerns local paramedics have about further amalgamation include longer wait and response times and a loss of a sense of community.
“When it gets to that size, the fear is privatization,” said Schepers. “That scares us because if that happens, in order for a private company to make it, there needs to be cuts.
"They keep saying none of the front line is to be cut, but there aren’t enough efficiencies out there to be made. In Simcoe County, specifically, we’re quite lean as it is.”
There are currently 340 paramedics employed by the County of Simcoe with Simcoe County Paramedic Services. In 2018, those paramedics responded to more than 73,000 calls.
“Cuts will ultimately result in longer response times. If they’re waiting longer, chances are they’ll become more dire need. It could cost lives. It could mean greater illness,” said Schepers.
New and innovative programs undertaken by the County of Simcoe, such as the Community Paramedicine program, could also see themselves on the chopping block should privatization occur.
“If they’re going to make cuts, they have to cut from somewhere,” said Schepers. “Our programs have been very successful at keeping people out of the emergency room. So if those are cut, more people will be sent to the ER, which then increases wait times for everybody.”
In a previous interview, Barrie-Innisfil MPP Andrea Khanjin spoke about the changes, saying that nothing was yet set in stone.
"This is just opening up the conversation," said Khanjin, adding the Progressive Conservative government wants to include front-line paramedics to discover ways "to really improve our emergency care."
There is currently an Ontario-wide petition to voice concerns about possible cuts to paramedic services. To view or sign the petition, click here.