Haliburton is not only the fastest growing county in Ontario, it’s also the oldest, consultants for a paramedic services master plan told councillors at their Feb. 8 meeting.

Michael MacIsaac, of Emergency Management Group, said the Ministry of Finance does population projections and has estimated 40 per cent of Highlanders will be seniors by 2046, making it “the oldest county in the province percentage wise.” While nothing new, he added the County has to plan its paramedic service with that in mind.

The Highlands is the fastest growing in Ontario, and fourth in Canada, according to the 2021 Census. The population has expanded by nearly 14 per cent.

MacIsaac and co-consultant, Keith Kirkpatrick, said people 65 and older make up 35 per cent of the Highlands population but account for 60 per cent of ambulance calls. While not abnormal compared to other parts of the province and country, “you need to be aware of that and plan for it.”

Consultant recommends interfacility transfer working group

They prepared a 10-year strategy for council, identifying six major challenges.

As has been reported extensively in The Highlander, interfacility transfers, or taking patients from Haliburton or Minden hospitals to regional hospitals, nursing homes or longterm care facilities, “is the largest call type by far, four times greater in volume than the next closest call.” It accounts for one-third of calls, and about half of the service’s time.

The hired hands reiterated that call time is being used up taking patients for CT scans and MRIs out of the County. MacIsaac said he is pleased there is some talk of getting a CT scanner for the Highlands since ambulances are out of the County for “hours and hours of time” and it’s been stressing the service for years.

“Critical coverage is when you have your ambulance fleet depleted due to various reasons. The reason could be call-volume, but also doing work that is truly not 911 work,” MacIsaac said. He added County ambulances are getting stuck at regional hospitals due to off-loading issues.

Another challenge they identified was a lean management team. “I would say your paramedic service is giving 150 per cent,” Kirkpatrick said, “they’re really working beyond the means that they have.”

The two said the service could use another ambulance. While the Minden paramedic station is relatively new, they said it is cramped with the community paramedicine program also housed there. They added the Haliburton station is maxed out for the number of vehicles it has and Tory Hill is crowded. They further said another station could be added at either Stanhope or Carnarvon to better service the northwest.

With recruitment and retention, Kirkpatrick encouraged, “fostering some homegrown talent” via working with the high school. When he was the chief in Kawartha Lakes, he said they brought CPR training to the Lindsay high schools, as well as co-ops and career days.

The consultants recommended an interfacility transfer working group, a deployment plan review, key performance indicators, an administrative assistant, two new superintendents and an additional ambulance in the short-term. In the mid to longer term, they said a third and fourth supervisor should be added, a new headquarters, and a space in Algonquin Highlands.

Kirkpatrick said the County has a very good paramedic system. “It’s just stressed and it needs a little bit of help.”

Warden Liz Danielsen told the consultants they had, “hit us where it hurts … we’re in the budgeting phase and we can see that there’s a lot of money associated with the recommendations you’re making and yet we need to take those seriously.”

Director of emergency services, Tim Waite, will come back to council with a staff report in the next couple of months.