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Workers petitioning for ambulance dispatch

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Employees at Riverside Health Care Facilities Inc. are appealing to area residents in a last-ditch effort to keep the ambulance dispatch service here.

And they’re hoping to get as many names as possible on a petition to let the Ministry of Health know that district residents are opposed to moving ambulance dispatch to Kenora.

“We’ve got a really good dispatching service. Kenora would have to do a lot to maintain that service,” said Lucille MacDonald, a casual dispatcher/paramedic.

“We just didn’t want to let it go without giving people a chance to let their opinion be known,” she added.

MacDonald noted response has been very positive so far, adding she’d be happy to have every taxpayer in the district sign the petition.

“I don’t know for sure if it will do any good," she admitted. "[But] it might make a difference down the road when they take the next thing.”

Ministry spokesperson Lily Weedon noted the petition probably wouldn’t change anything at this point. While she assured the concerns would be listened to, she added the ministry was planning to roll the anticipated cost savings back into front-line services.

And an amalgamated service would allow them to provide more efficient services—and more of them. A report by the ministry’s Emergency Health Services branch showed the move to save an estimated $125,000 annually.

“I think your area is one of the last that has had that consolidation happen,” Weedon added.

But MacDonald noted that same report showed a greater cost savings would be found by consolidating the ambulance dispatch service in Thunder Bay, and questioned the logic behind moving it to Kenora.

While she’s committed to do everything in her power to make things work if ambulance dispatch does relocate up there, local ambulance manager Grace Silander admitted she had some concerns about the changeover—especially when it comes to remote locations in the district.

Silander noted some rural people don’t have names on their mailboxes, and only fire numbers identify the houses. Since the Ministry of Health puts the onus on attendants to know the area, dispatchers and ambulance attendants work as a team under the present system here to help locate exactly where the calls are coming from.

“When we head out into those areas, we have nothing," Silander stressed, noting the dispatchers provide them with crucial information. "It can drastically weaken the team.”

The Kenora dispatchers are supposed to do exactly the same thing as those here do but Silander feared they wouldn’t know the area as well.

“Obviously, up there, the distances are greater,” Weedon admitted but added the rate of incidents is down. In southern Ontario, she noted the physical areas were smaller but they had to deal with a higher incident rate.

But Silander also noted many questions still needed to be answered. Like whether the “gentleman’s agreement” with the ambulance in International Falls would be jeopardized by the move.

“Until we get there, we really don’t know what our growing pains are going to be," she admitted. ”I hope to heck that someone isn’t going to suffer because of this move.

“As a manager, I have to try and make it work. It’s got to work,” she added.

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