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District ambulance service in limbo

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Land ambulance service in Ontario is changing—and Rainy River District will be especially affected.

As of Jan. 1 of this year, volunteers basically need a college diploma, said Donna Dittaro, CAO of the District Social Services Administration Board (DSSAB).

“Volunteers with 20 years or more service have been told by the government they’re not qualified,” she said.

There also is a wage war in play against eastern Ontario.

“It’s hard on small communities. They’re able to pay more in eastern Ontario,” Dittaro noted.

Grace Silander, ambulance manager/supervisor for Riverside Health Care Facilities Inc. here, said studies show many people who wish to become paramedics like the adrenaline rush of it, which makes it harder to recruit EMCAs to the district.

“We don’t have the high-call volume if you’re in it for the gusto,” agreed Dittaro.

On Jan. 1, 2001, the Ontario government downloaded administration for land ambulance services to local service boards. And as of 2006, ambulance attendants will need EMCA certification for employment and there has to be a primary care paramedic on each vehicle.

Volunteers working more than 24 hours a week also will need EMCA certification.

Silander said right now, they’re unable to follow the legislation. “My non-EMCAs are working more than 24 hours a week—otherwise we’re not staffing vehicles,” she remarked.

Volunteers will need to complete more than 800 hours of theory alone, including topics such as pharmacology, pathophysiology, and anatomy.

There also is 300 hours of practical lab and hospital clinical components, including areas such as patient assessment and treatment.

The land ambulance field placement will take a minimum of 450 hours of the worker’s time. Then there’s the financial aspect of testing candidates.

Those assessed as acceptable will be required to complete a selection of qualifying tests totalling more than $400.

“Volunteers feel pushed out. Many have entered other areas of volunteerism,” noted Silander. “This [training] is costing these people a lot of money like $12,000-$14,000.

“A lot of [the volunteers] have jobs. People don’t know the dedication here,” she added.

While there’s the possibility of layoffs down the road with all the restructuring, Silander said she’s doing everything in her power to ensure that doesn’t happen.

“We haven’t down-staffed yet, [and] I’m praying it doesn’t happen,” she said. “I’ll be working nights, management will be filling in—we’re going to do it.

“I’m optimistic,” Silander continued. “We’ve got a very good DSSAB board. I know they’ve got their hearts in the right place. Somewhere down the line, it’ll work.

“We’re working with the ministries—it was downloaded so quickly,” she noted. “Everyone gets anxiety. Things are tough, but we’re doing it.”

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