Health Minister dodges demands for disclosure of EMS report

June 20, 2012

QUEEN’S PARK — Today, Kitchener-Conestoga MPP Michael Harris demanded Health Minister Deb Matthews immediately disclose potentially life-saving information contained within a provincial report on the Niagara EMS dispatch centre.

The report is especially relevant to Waterloo Region, since local officials have long been advocating for a regionally operated EMS centre similar to Niagara’s – which boasts ambulance response times faster than any provincially controlled dispatch service.

Since the report was completed in 2009, the Liberal government has repeatedly turned down requests from municipalities for it to be released, as well as their requests to have authority to regionally operate dispatching services.

But every time municipalities request this authority, the Ministry of Health responds, saying that they must provide evidence proving there would be substantial improvements to response times and considerable cost savings before going ahead.

Many municipal paramedics believe that the Niagara report contains indisputable evidence proving the Niagara model addresses both concerns.

To date, there have been several attempts from a number of different municipal groups to obtain a copy of the Niagara report, but every time the Health Minister has refused to release it.

Frustrated by the Ministry’s stonewalling, the Association of Municipal Emergency Medical Services of Ontario (AMEMSO) filed a freedom of information request in April, asking for the Niagara report and all documents relating to it.

On May 18, AMEMSO received a reply from Patricia Li, the assistant deputy minister of the Direct Services Division saying, the ministry will only provide documents relating to the Niagara report after redacting 25% of its contents.

“Why has the Liberal government decided to withhold a quarter of this report? If the Minister of Health was truly concerned about saving lives, she would – at least, for the sake of transparency – disclose the full report today,” Harris said.

“The Minister needs to stop putting people’s lives at risk just to retain control of a service she and her government have bungled for years. That’s why I’m calling on her to do the right thing to improve EMS response times in Waterloo Region and across the province by releasing the full report immediately.”

During Question Period today, MPP Harris asked the following questions:

First question: My question is to the Minister of Health. Minister, we know based on your responses over the past few weeks that fixing Waterloo Region’s broken EMS dispatching system isn’t really a priority for you.

Last week, you again rejected the Region of Waterloo’s appeal to create one emergency dispatching facility modeled on the successful … regionally operated Niagara EMS Dispatch Centre … which your Ministry approved as a pilot project in 2005.

Over the last seven years, the Niagara centre has been a stunning success, boasting ambulance response times faster than any provincially controlled dispatch service.

We know that as part of this pilot project the Liberal government conducted a thorough evaluation of the Niagara system in 2009, which led to its continuation.

Simple question, Minister: Where’s the 2009 report on the Niagara dispatch centre and are you willing to table it in the House today?

Second question: Again to the Minister. Minister, an overwhelming majority of municipalities, including, Peel, York, Waterloo and – even London – are now in favour of implementing dispatching services similar to Niagara’s.

But you continue to stand in their way, saying they must provide proof a regionally operated system will produce better results.

Well, Minister, you have that proof in your evaluation of the successful Niagara system but … you continue to suppress it.

In fact, I’m holding in my hand your response to an FOI request filed by municipal paramedics – in which you say you will only provide documents relating to the Niagara report after redacting 25% of its contents.

Minister, it’s time to stop hiding this information. So I ask you: will you do the right thing to save lives in the Region of Waterloo and across the province by disclosing the full report today? Yes or no!