A city councillor is calling for an independent review of ambulance response times in Winnipeg after hearing repeated concerns about long waits and not enough action to address staff overtime and burnout.
Coun. Kevin Klein (Charleswood-Tuxedo-Westwood) introduced a motion earlier this month asking for the city’s standing policy committee on protection, community services and parks to approve the launch of an independent review into ambulance services.
Klein said he’s heard from several residents who’ve waited for more than an hour for an ambulance to arrive, and has long heard concerns from paramedics about being left short-staffed and stretched thin. Internal reports from the Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service haven’t solved this "critical" issue, Klein said.
"We need to have it addressed as quickly as possible, and I believe an independent review will give us the best answer," he said, adding he generally dislikes requesting additional reports but believes a third-party review is needed in this case.
"I’m not confident in the reports that I’ve seen from the city in the last two and a half years. I would like to see a more robust report. I don’t want to see a report done by a group or individual that is beholden to the city or the administration in any way, shape or form."
The number of ambulances operating in Winnipeg has been stagnant for the past seven years, and the city hasn’t been able to add ambulances despite calls to expand the service as the population grows, Klein said.
"Our population has increased, our city has expanded its footprint, but this government has failed to keep up with those changes when it comes to the health and safety of residents, and of our own staff, because we’re hearing they’re burnt out," he said. "We’re hearing the problems that they’re having."
The motion will be discussed at the committee meeting Thursday. If it’s approved there, it would subsequently need to be approved by the mayor’s executive policy committee and city council in order for a review get underway. Klein said he’s not confident that will happen.
The city has a funding agreement with the province for ambulance services, which are run municipally. Klein suggested it’s time for the province to take over the city’s ambulance service.
Committee chairwoman Sherri Rollins has also been calling for additional ambulances in Winnipeg — something the city’s fire-paramedic service has long acknowledged is necessary. Last fall, the WFPS said it hoped to add up to 11 ambulances and additional staff. That hasn’t happened, and this past July, then-WFPS chief John Lane told the standing committee Winnipeggers were waiting up to six hours for an ambulance.
"We haven’t received 11 additional ambulances from the province, but have received some advanced-care paramedic support during the pandemic that’s largely keeping people who have COVID at home and not in a hospital bed," Rollins said.
Rollins said she plans to ask for clarification about the proposal for an independent review when the committee hears Klein’s motion this week.
"It is important for me to clarify with my colleagues what they mean by independent review. I’m certainly not interested in expending resources just to tell me that we need additional ambulance services when we know we already do," said Rollins, who has previously voiced her support for more ambulances and additional paramedic and advanced-care paramedic resources.
"I’m no stranger to the fact that we have a story to tell in Winnipeg about needing more ambulance resources," she said.
Katie May is a general-assignment reporter for the Free Press.