Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Faceoff over ambulance service at Jets games

Union warns city firm out to take over work

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AS the Winnipeg Jets prepared Tuesday evening to play their first home game in 15 years, the union representing city paramedics faced off against a private ambulance service over the right to transport injured hockey players from the MTS Centre.

But players on both sides have since called a time out, claiming this shinny-related turf scuffle may simply be the result of a misunderstanding.

On Sunday, members of the Manitoba Government and General Employees Union Local 911, which represents Winnipeg paramedics, received an email from union brass, claiming Winnipeg-based ambulance company Criti Care was seeking the right to transport NHL players to hospital.

Currently, the Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service is the only entity allowed to pick up patients within the city and transport them to Winnipeg Regional Health Authority facilities such as hospital emergency rooms.

Criti Care has placed an ambulance at the MTS Centre during pro hockey games since the downtown hockey arena opened in 2004, as required by the American and National hockey leagues. The private firm does not have the right to transport injured players to hospital, except under exceptional circumstances where a player has a life-threatening injury and no city ambulance is available, the city and province confirmed.

"They may transport only if there's a threat to life and limb and an ambulance is not available in a timely manner," said WRHA spokeswoman Heidi Graham.

In their email, MGEU Local 911 executives claimed Criti Care was attempting to expand their transport of patients.

"Should this happen, it would open the door for privatization of patient transport at emergency scenes," they wrote, claiming the WRHA has denied a Criti Care request. "We believe there is a risk that Criti Care will ignore the WRHA and attempt transport anyway."

Criti Care, however, denies it has made any such request and says it is merely attempting to renew its annual licence. In seven years of placing an ambulance at the MTS Centre, only one player required transportation -- and the Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service did the job, said Bill Sommers, Criti Care's chief operating officer.

"This has never been an issue before, and somehow it's an issue because of the Jets," Sommers said in an interview. "Nothing has changed, but somehow this has taken on some sense of urgency."

Sommers said he supports MGEU Local 911, noting his company trained a large portion of the city's paramedics, some of whom work for his firm on a part-time basis.

But he said he fears the union is seeking complete exclusivity at the MTS Centre, which he said would make no sense at a time when paramedics are lobbying the city and province for more ambulances.

"It would be unpalatable to think when there are no ambulances in the city, the only ambulance is sitting at Jets games," he said.

Local 911 executives could not be reached for comment. MGEU spokesman John Baert said his union's sole concerns are a shortage of ambulances within Winnipeg and the need to improve response times.

Baert said the letter to members of Local 911 was not intended to serve as a public statement and may be the result of a misunderstanding. He said there is no attempt to embroil the Winnipeg Jets in a controversy.

The WRHA's Graham, meanwhile, said she was not aware of a request to amend Criti Care's licence.

A spokesman for the MTS Centre said there is no need to change it.

"If the wheel isn't broke, why fix it?" asked Kevin Donnelly, senior vice-president and general manager of True North Sports & Entertainment. "That ambulance has to be ready. On that rare occasion, and it is extremely rare, it has to move."

bartley.kives@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 22, 2011 B1

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