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York Region to add 344 paramedic staff, millions to budget

"I wonder how we can afford this," says Newmarket mayor as region plans to expand department over next decade to meet increasing demand
20180924 ambulance KC
File photo

York Region is planning to expand its paramedic department by 344 over the next 10 years, but councillors expressed concerns about the costs and speed of the service.

A new paramedic services master plan endorsed by council committee of the whole today, June 16, said that demand is expected to rise significantly, from 91,625 incidents in 2021 to 163,606 projected incidents in 2031.

The plan also pushes forward a goal of responding to life-threatening injuries in eight minutes, or less, 70 per cent of the time, regardless of municipality. 

The resolution also calls for advocacy to the province for modernization and sustainable funding for community paramedicine. Newmarket Mayor John Taylor said this would be critical and expressed concern about the costs.

“I wonder how we can afford this,” Taylor said. “I hope we have a very ambitious plan also for how to engage the province." 

The 2021-2031 plan estimates the need for a $3.46 million annual operating budget increase to fund the extra staff, along with an extra $27.2-million capital expenditure for additional stations and vehicles. It calls for adding 305 frontline staff and 39 support staff, along with 53 new vehicles.

A staff presentation said the increased demand is due to population growth, as well as an aging population. The region is expected to grow by 308,000 by 2031. Increased density is also expected to result in more calls.

Staff said they have looked for efficiencies to help address the increased cost. But Taylor said the budget increase could alone amount to a couple of percentage points of a tax increase over the next decade, beyond any other increases. 

“We can say we should spend more money to get faster response time,” Taylor said. “We can do anything with enough money, but the public has opinions … Everybody wants their loved ones lives saved, but that is some significant cost increases.” 

Markham Regional Councillor Jack Heath said he did not think the response standard the department is aiming for is high enough.

“Mrs. Johnson has a heart attack, the family’s not going to say, ‘Well, I understand. We fell outside of the standard.’ They’re only going to be interested in their own results,” Heath said. 

Paramedic Services Chief Chris Spearen said there is a discrepancy based on the municipality they hope to help address. 

“We do believe there will be significant improvements in areas of the region,” he said. “Within eight minutes is quite a strong response.”

The staff report said public opinion is complimentary of paramedic services, with the department having the highest satisfaction score in the 2021 community opinion report at 84 per cent. When asked about spending on paramedic services, 58 per cent said they would spend the same and 40 per cent said they would spend more. 

Staff said that system innovations from the province could mitigate some of the resource requirements. The report said increased paramedic time spent off-loading patients is also a growing concern that impacts resources. 

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

Editor's Note, June 16: This article was changed to correct the projected increase in ambulance incidents by 2031.