By James Matthews
Despite the closure of the Minden Hills emergency department, Haliburton County residents won’t see a drastic difference in the level of paramedic service.
And the county’s dedicated, capable paramedics can provide a measure of comfort to residents on the heels of the recent major change in the region’s level of medical service.
The Haliburton Highlands Health Services consolidated emergency department (ED) care to its Haliburton facility. The consolidation meant the permanent closure of the Minden Hills ED as of June 1.
That sent panic throughout the Haliburton County community, borne of a fear at a reduction in health care services. People held well-populated public protests. A petition garnered about 25,000 signatures by people against the closure. There was even an attempt at a legal challenge to the loss of the ED.
Tim Waite, chief paramedic and director at the Haliburton County Paramedic Service, reassures residents and summer visitors to the region that the ambulance service isn’t changing. In fact, it’s improving as more skills are added to a paramedic’s scope of practice.
Based on the 2022 year-end report presented to county council May 24, the Haliburton County Ambulance Service responded to 4,785 calls to the Haliburton station, the base, for 58 per cent of the year’s tally. The Tory Hill station received 2,588 calls for 28 per cent of the total. The fewest calls for service came to the Minden station where ambulances were dispatched 1,909 times for 21 per cent of last year’s calls.
“We deploy ambulances dynamically,” Waite said. “If an ambulance is doing a call, say, in Minden, then we will move one of our other ambulances down to Minden.
“As ambulances get utilized for calls, we keep moving the ambulances to where we anticipate where the biggest chance of the next happening. And that’s the more populated areas. Minden and Haliburton are the two most populous sites, so we’ll move them (ambulances) out appropriately.”
Waite said the county service is up-staffing the Minden area every weekend through the summer.
Waite said an extra ambulance was only made available for long weekends. An extra ambulance will be pressed into service every weekend this summer. And that’s one bit of solace that can be found amid the fear and uncertainty that descended like mosquitos since the ED closure’s announcement in April.
“The important thing to keep in mind is the paramedics are very well trained and have a large scope of practice,” Waite said. “Their scope of practice has been increasing substantially over the last 20 years and exponentially, probably, over the last five years.
“They have a scope of practice that includes 20 medications for treatment of breathing issues, anaphylaxis, one medication to be used in emergency child birth. For traumatic patients, we have the ability to start IVs to offer fluid bolus if there’s internal bleeding and their blood pressure is low.”
Basically and except for the presence of a physician, the back of an ambulance can be likened to a mobile ED.
“We’re equipped very well,” he said. “When we arrive at the scene, treatment starts. Treatment and stabilization starts at the scene and then transport to the hospital for further care.”
Waite said throughout the brouhaha that erupted with the ED closure, there’s been no change in the level of emergency medical service from his crews.
“We continue to staff four fully staffed ambulances during the day time and three fully staffed ambulances at night,” he said. “There’s the 24-hour, seven-days a week ambulance in Minden, Haliburton, and Tory Hill. And we have a fourth ambulance for peak time that we deploy over to Algonquin Highlands area.”
Waite said he believes residents and visitors to the area aren’t going to notice any difference in response times.
“The main difference will be that some patients that would have in the past been transported to the Minden site will now be transported to the Haliburton site which represents, maybe, a 15- or 20-minute longer ambulance transport,” he said.
“Keep in mind that there’s lots of residents in Haliburton County that their normal ambulance transport time to the Haliburton site may be 45 minutes or more, depending on where they live,” he said.