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County council doubtful new ambulance stations will improve response times

The county wants more information before it commits to spending millions on five ambulance stations in Wellington County over the next eight years

WELLINGTON ‒ Several members of county council want to hit the brakes on investing $45.5 million into five ambulance stations over the next eight years until more updated information is available. 

During a special meeting of county council about the 2024 budget and 10-year plan Thursday morning, while most councillors acknowledged the importance of improving ambulance response times across the county, all felt the updated cost estimates for building those stations – an additional $33.8 million more than was initial estimated – wasn't feasible. 

"Here's the thing: if I thought...building these stations was going to automatically and significantly increase response times for our residents, I'd be all for it," said County Coun. Diane Ballantyne during the meeting. "But we know that the problem with the ambulance response times isn't necessarily about the stations."

According to the presentation, the last study on optimal ambulance station locations was done in 2018 and a new full study isn't planned until 2027.

"I don't think this is money well spent right now," said Ballantyne. "That doesn't mean working conditions aren't important for the paramedics, that we're not concerned about response times for our residents but (I'd like to wait) until the offloading issues at our hospitals are figured out in a more significant way." 

Although no firm commitments have been made, the City of Guelph has also proposed an abbreviated study for Wellington County's top three priority sites in Erin, Guelph/Eramosa, and Arthur. 

But County Coun. Michael Dehn said he felt the report misrepresents the current condition of Erin's ambulance station and the proposed new central location is unnecessary. 

"This isn't going to solve a single problem," said Dehn. "I think a serious point we have to look at is...the ambulances are always going out of town; that's not two minutes down the road." 

Other councillors argued the inflated prices alone were enough to defer the decision, suggesting alternative solutions like purchasing more ambulances and investing in fewer stations. 

Dehn even asked whether municipalities could consider pulling away from the county and handling their own ambulance services.  

However, according to CAO Scott Wilson, a similar idea was proposed and rejected by the province a few years ago. 

"The long and the short of it is the closest ambulance responds so if there's a great need in Guelph, they get sucked out...that's just the reality," said Wilson. "So I don’t know that we could put in place a system that works within that system but can always ensure an ambulance is available."

An updated report will be presented in November. 

Isabel Buckmaster is the Local Journalism Initiative reporter for GuelphToday. LJI is a federally-funded program.

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About the Author: Isabel Buckmaster, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Isabel Buckmaster covers Wellington County under the Local Journalism Initiative, which is funded by the Government of Canada
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