Jeff Heuchert, Stratford Gazette
Perth County is taking a conservative approach to how it reports and reviews ambulance response times.
Under new provincial regulation, municipalities must set their own ambulance response time targets based on the severity of the call, and last week councillors approved a new set of times for Perth County EMS.
Previously, reporting was done only for emergency calls and was measured the same across the province.
Under the new system, EMS aims to arrive at a cardiac arrest within six minutes 51 per cent of the time.
A time of eight minutes 70 per cent of the time was set for a severely ill patient who might require resuscitation.
For calls of a lesser severity, EMS targets arriving within 16 minutes 75 per cent of the time, while patients requiring non-urgent care have the longest wait at 30 minutes 90 per cent the time.
“You always want to be able to respond to a citizen’s cry for an ambulance. But what we’re saying is there are higher priorities, and if we have a choice, we’re going to go to those higher priority calls first,” said EMS director Linda Rockwood, when outlining the new response times to council.
Rockwood noted there are several concerns about the new reporting system, and it was that uncertainty that led council to approve a conservative set of response times rather than times that might be difficult to meet on a regular basis.
One issue with the new system, Rockwood noted, is it does not allow for individual benchmarks for urban and rural areas, meaning more calls out in the county, or more calls from within Stratford – where ambulances can respond much quicker – will skew the overall data.
Another issue could stem from the communication between central dispatch and the local EMS.
Rockwood noted a call that is coded incorrectly, which can happen if the person calling 911 doesn’t give dispatch sufficient information or doesn’t understand the severity of the circumstances, can create a situation where EMS responds to a non-urgent matter like an emergency or, worse, doesn’t use the lights and sirens when they’re needed.
Either instance will also lead to misleading data, said Rockwood.
She noted the response times are only guidelines, and would not affect future provincial funding levels.
Also, Rockwood noted she had sought legal advice and was told the county would not be held accountable if EMS was unable to meet the times set by council. Still, any public response time reporting on the county’s website will include a disclaimer.
Rockwood suggested the new reporting system, with fractile percentages and different codes of calls, would be difficult for the general public to digest.
What people really want to know, she said, is if they need an ambulance and it’s an emergency, that it will be there.
For that, Rockwood was much less conservative.
“When we’re told it is a Code 4 (emergency), we get there under 12 minutes 90 per cent of the time in the county. That’s a really good response time for a municipality with a fairly large rural area.”