Province, city hammer out new ambulance service funding deal Two more vehicles, 20 additional paramedics ‘step in the right direction,’ WFPS chief says; no change to $250 patient ride fee
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After several years of negotiations, the City of Winnipeg finally has a new contract to provide ambulance service for the province, though some fear it lacks the resources needed to speed up emergency care.
On Wednesday, Shared Health and the Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service announced they have finally completed a new emergency medical services agreement.
“These investments will support emergency medical responders, offer funding certainty to our partners at the city and improve emergency response times for Winnipeggers who need it,” said Premier Heather Stefanson.
Under the new five-year contract, a formula will ensure surges in patient numbers are matched with funding increases, though the province did not specify by how much. For 2023, WFPS will receive $51.9 million of baseline funding plus a one-time $2.1 million grant.
Patient fees will not change, including the $250 charge per ambulance ride, while the province will pay all other ambulance costs.
“This agreement offers financial certainty for the City of Winnipeg,” said Mayor Scott Gillingham.
The province will also fund an additional two ambulances and 20 paramedics, though that stops well short of the 10 vehicles and 110 full-time paramedics WFPS has repeatedly asked for to help reduce soaring emergency response times.
In 2022, a transport ambulance and crew reached a patient in a life-threatening emergency within 19.67 minutes 90 per cent of the time, up from 16.27 minutes in 2021, 14.93 minutes in 2020 and 14.27 minutes in 2019, WFPS data shows. The wait well exceeds an eight-minute, 59-second target.
When asked if he thought the new ambulances and paramedics would be sufficient to meet target response times, WFPS Chief Christian Schmidt described those resources as one step, among others, toward that goal.
“This certainly will not solve, in the totality, the issues that we’ve had with response times and the demand but it is certainly going to take us a step in the right direction,” said Schmidt.
WFPS has stressed firefighter-paramedics still arrive on scene quickly, which allowed an emergency responder to reach a patient within 8.95 minutes, 90 per cent of the time in 2022 for the most serious calls.
Yet the service has also warned long wait times and high demand for services are increasing the risk of employee burnout.
At the announcement, many speakers acknowledged the two levels of government have taken years to work out a deal. Former mayor Brian Bowman publicly accused the province of dragging its feet on a new contract in 2020, saying Winnipeg officials began pushing for one before the latest contract expired in 2016 and was briefly extended in 2017.
“It’s nice to have an agreement but I think it comes up short. Two ambulances and 20 paramedics is not going to reduce the wait times (to the extent) that we want to see.”–Kyle Ross, MGEU president
“It’s no secret we’ve travelled a long and winding road to get us to this day. Both sides were tasked with resolving very complex issues at a time when very significant developments were occurring away from the negotiating table that diverted our focus,” said Helen Clark, Shared Health’s chief operating officer of emergency response services.
Clark noted the pandemic as one of the key distractions.
The head of a union that represents Winnipeg paramedics fears the new resources won’t be enough to improve ambulance response times.
“It’s nice to have an agreement but I think it comes up short. Two ambulances and 20 paramedics is not going to reduce the wait times (to the extent) that we want to see. I think there’s a lot more work to be done,” said Kyle Ross, president of the Manitoba Government and General Employees’ Union.
Ross said local paramedics are suffering from a daunting workload.
“They’re working off their feet, most of them are burning out. It’s a very challenging environment to work in. There’s very little down time and there’s lots of overtime,” he said.
At the Manitoba legislature, provincial opposition leaders also criticized the agreement.
Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont described the agreement as good, but quite overdue, news.
“It put people through a lot of unnecessary suffering,” Lamont said, referring to the delay.
He stressed more must be done to support paramedics reporting increased rates of trauma, violence on the job and burnout.
NDP Leader Wab Kinew questioned the Progressive Conservative government’s timing and motivation for signing the agreement with the city now.
“For seven years, the PCs have let the situation languish and they’ve made cuts to health care and now, in an election year, they’re trying to make announcements and put out press releases. But I think everyone in Manitoba knows that the PCs, if they get re-elected this year, they’re going to cause even more damage to our health-care system,” Kinew told reporters.
The new contract took effect May 10 and will end Dec. 31, 2027, with an option to extend it for five-year terms.
— With files from Danielle Da Silva and Carol Sanders
Born and raised in Winnipeg, Joyanne loves to tell the stories of this city, especially when politics is involved. Joyanne became the city hall reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press in early 2020.