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This article was published 30/11/2017 (204 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
The head of the union representing Winnipeg ambulance personnel says the province's move to freeze ambulance funding is another broken promise by the Pallister government to not cut front-line services.
Michelle Gawronsky, president of the Manitoba Government and General Employees' Union, said the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority's letter to city officials, saying it is ending its ambulance cost-sharing agreement and will freeze funding at 2016 levels for both this year and 2018, comes after the provincial government has already converted some hospital emergency rooms into urgent care centres and shuttered the urgent care centre at the Misericordia Health Centre.
"We're very disappointed this government is not living up to funding the public services we rely on," Gawronsky said on Thursday, noting Premier Brian Pallister promised during the election his government wouldn't cut front line services.
"(Ambulances) can mean the difference between life and death. And when I speak to (emergency room personnel) they say wait times are even higher now and more people are relying on ambulances because of emergency room closures."
Gawronsky, whose union represents 350 ambulance workers in Winnipeg, said while people can decide whether to go to an urgent care centre or not, many of the people using an ambulance don't even know they need medical care.
"A child could be choking. A child could be unconscious. They call an ambulance. It is dire. It is life or death. But right now I can't rely on getting to an emergency room in certain areas of the city — will there be an ambulance now if there are cuts?
"I encourage the mayor to fight for continued funding."
Mayor Brian Bowman said on Wednesday he only learned about the province's decision the day before.
"Like transit, the provincial government appears to have unilaterally decided to abandon a long-standing city-provincial cost-sharing agreement," he said.
"This will create significant financial issues for the city in both the 2017 fiscal year, which we've almost completed, as well as 2018... very early estimates suggest the financial impact in 2017 will be in the millions (of dollars) and the impact will increase in 2018."
Bowman also noted ambulances are part of health care which is a provincial responsibility.
"It seems odd to me the province is backing away from an agreement to fund the service the city provides on their half," he said.
The city — just like Brandon — helps pay the cost of ambulance service. The city says it received $20.7 million in provincial funding from the province for ambulance service in 2016. Patients pay about half the cost of an ambulance ride — either personally or through insurance — with the province and city splitting the remainder of the cost.
But, the city is predicting that if the province carries through with its intention to freeze funding at 2016 levels, because of rising costs it will result in a shortfall to the city of $2.5 million in 2017 and $4.6 million in the 2018 budget.
Speaking to reporters Thursday, Health Minister Kelvin Goertzen reiterated that the city received a big bump in ambulance service funding – 27 per cent – in 2016, and it is not sustainable to expect such large increases to continue.
"I would say to the city that we’ve had to ensure that we’re living more within our means than has been done in the past," Goertzen said. "I think they (the city) might have to do the same.
"There has to be some financial control and restraint within every level of government, province and city."
– with files from Larry Kusch
Kevin Rollason is one of the more versatile reporters at the Winnipeg Free Press. Whether it is covering city hall, the law courts, or general reporting, Rollason can be counted on to not only answer the 5 Ws — Who, What, When, Where and Why — but to do it in an interesting and accessible way for readers.
Updated on Thursday, November 30, 2017 at 8:19 PM CST: FIxes incorrect budget numbers in earlier version of story.