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BRANDON — A major overhaul of Manitoba’s emergency medical services will include the closure of 23 low-call-volume rural stations.
Health Minister Kelvin Goertzen said five new strategically-placed stations will replace the shuttered stations as the province moves to a goal of 24/7 paramedic coverage.
"It’s not about where the stations are located so much, it’s about where the ambulances are located and the flexibility to have them in different places," he said Thursday.
New sites will be located in Alonsa, Cowan, Miniota, Eriksdale and Manigotagan, while stations in Virden and Glenboro will be enhanced. The changes stem from recommendations contained in the 2013 provincial EMS review, authored by Reg Toews and commissioned by the previous NDP government.
The list of stations to close includes Baldur, Birtle, Boissevain, Cartwright, Elkhorn, Ethelbert, Grandview, Hamiota, Hartney, McCreary, Oak Lake, Reston, Rossburn, Treherne and Wawanesa. Also on the block are stations in Elie, Manitou, Swan Lake, Bissett, Lundar, Pinawa, Reynolds and Riverton.
A provincial spokesperson stressed the facilities will not be closed until capacity is created with new sites. The stations to be closed may be repurposed as maintenance facilities, storage or used as flexible dispatch posts.
At a gathering Thursday at the Brandon Regional Health Centre, Goertzen announced the province will invest $1.7 million to add 29 full-time paramedic positions across three regional health authorities: Prairie Mountain Health, Southern Health and Interlake-Eastern.
"These new positions... will offer more stable and enhanced service to (people) in those regions," he said. "And they move us into the right direction of a 24-hour, seven-day-a-week paramedic and EMS system."
They will replace on-call, standby shifts at seven stations across southern Manitoba, said Corene Debreuil, acting executive director of health emergency management with Manitoba Health, Seniors and Active Living.
"When paramedics are on standby, that means they have to travel back to their station to pick up the ambulance before they can proceed to a call," she said. "Reducing our reliance on standby shifts and funding permanent positions supports quicker response times."
Times have changed greatly when it comes to paramedics, Goertzen said.
"Years ago... they were simply viewed as the people who picked you up and brought you to the hospital for care," he said. "Those days are long gone. Now, that care begins when the paramedics show up.
"The care that Manitobans need at the time of their greatest need happens when that paramedic arrives."
Cameron Ritzer, chairman of the Paramedic Association of Manitoba, spoke in favour of the transition to 24-hour staffing, saying it guarantees paramedics are always prepared and able to respond in "the most sound mind and body."
The Manitoba Government and General Employees’ Union, however, was not as optimistic.
"In 2013, the EMS review called for the addition of 400 EMS responders in the province — and with a population that continues to grow, this is a very small step forward in achieving that," president Michelle Gawronsky said in a statement. "It’s prudent that the government act now to fill those 400 positions before closing any sites, because until that happens no improvements to patient care are possible."
— Brandon Sun, with Free Press files