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York Region faces 'incredible, substantial' demand for increased paramedic services

Province called upon to help out as region's aging and growing population places high demand on emergency service
June 21, 2022
Kim Zarzour

The Region of York is poised to virtually double its paramedic staff force in a decade -- and it’s raising concerns among some members of regional council.

Newmarket Mayor John Taylor believes the issue needs immediate provincial attention.

“We can’t be alone in this ... The province has to play a bigger role.”

The report presented at a regional council meeting June 16 said growth and an aging population mean demand for paramedic services will grow substantially with 911 calls to increase 119 per cent by 2031.

That’s an increase from 91,625 incidents in 2021 to 163,606 by 2031.

The report said the region needs an additional 305 front-line paramedics (there are currently about 450), and 53 new vehicles to meet the demand and ensure response times remain equitable across all nine local municipalities.

As well, an additional station will be needed in south Keswick. There are currently five spread across the region.

York has set a target of responding to life-threatening calls in eight minutes or less, 70 per cent of the time.

A 2021 survey of 1,120 residents found 58 per cent would spend the same amount of tax dollars on the service, and 40 per cent said they would spend more.

Markham Regional Councillor Jack Heath suggested the region should “aspire to do better ... six minutes 70 per cent of the time or eight minutes 90 per cent of the time, and I think we should be looking into our budget to find ways to do that.”

“Unlike Councillor Heath, who thinks we can easily afford more, I wonder how we can afford this,” Taylor said.

The new service will be costly, requiring an additional $62.3 million in gross and an estimated $31.15 million net operating investment, the staff report said.

“I was quite shocked when I read this,” Taylor said, adding it amounts to about three per cent tax increase over 10 years. “This is an incredible substantial need and I don’t doubt it’s entirely legitimate.”

Taylor said he’s concerned to think this will be combined with other challenges facing the region like rising cost of living and funding the subway and other growth.

He called for stronger language and an ambitious plan to engage the province in solutions.

“This should be getting a lot of attention. We want to keep our levels of service up, of course, it saves lives. But this is also incredibly challenging ... Everybody wants their loved one’s life saved, but these are some significant cost increases.”

Vaughan Regional Councillor Gino Rosati pointed to other concerns.

“For instance when it reaches the hospital ... the ambulance stays in the parking lot until the hospital is able to take in the patient.

The staff report said increased paramedic time spent off-loading patients is a growing concern.

"Provincial funding has not kept pace with the increased hours of coverage needed at the region’s hospitals due to increased demand.”

As well, he said, ambulance response time is often delayed because of heavy traffic and emergency lanes not being available.

The three-system response -- police, fire and ambulance all responding to 911 -- could also be improved, Rosati said.

It may be necessary to have them all on the scene, in case there is a fire or policing issues, and fire is usually there first because there are more fire stations and the distance is usually shorter, but Rosati said a study might be commissioned to see how the system could be better integrated.

Councillors voted to adopt the plan and write to the province advocating for expedited rollout of dispatch modernization, new models of care and sustainable funding.