By Stephen Petrick
Some big decisions loom for Haliburton County on how to manage paramedic services, in light of a perceived growing population.
Haliburton County councillors voted on Oct. 13 to begin the process of developing a new master plan for ambulance service.
The plan, which is expected to cost taxpayers $100,000, will look at “everything to do with our services,” said emergency services director Tim Waite. It could lead to new recommendations on base locations, staffing levels and how to handle increased call volumes.
Waite said Haliburton County Paramedic Service has seen “significant growth” in call volume over the last 18 and 19 months. He suspects that increase is partly due to Covid, but also due to growth in population.
Councillors supported the request to begin the master plan with no reservations. The unanimous vote means that a request for proposal will be sent out for consulting firms interested in taking on the project. The county will also apply to access “modernization funding” supplied by the province, to cover the costs.
Waite’s report led to a spirited discussion on the need for Haliburton County to address the challenge of providing health care needs at a time when the population of the county is perceived to be growing. Yet, several councillors noted, it’s hard to know the precise extent of that growth.
Dysart et al Mayor Andrea Roberts argued that Statistics Canada data on the county’s population is unreliable, as it can’t keep up with the fluid nature of people moving in and out of cottage country. That means the county must plan for health services while unsure of how many people might need the service each year.
County chief administrative officer Mike Rutter agreed that planning health-related services is tricky and that the number of people in the region who are attending hospitals because they don’t have local family physicians is a sign that the population is growing and the county must adapt.
“[Health care workers] continue to see growth on a regular basis for hospitalizations,” he said. “It does show that even though our population numbers aren’t increasing (officially) we are seeing a lot more people here. When they are hospitalized here, they don’t have a physician locally to help with their care.”
Waite said that the master plan would look at how paramedic services are provided in the county over the next 10 years, approximately.