More ambulances coming to Winnipeg following new agreement with province

For the first time in more than six years, a new service purchase agreement bringing more ambulances to the city is in place for the Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service (WFPS), the province and city announced Wednesday.

The WFPS has been operating without an agreement since 2017. The new agreement will last five years, until Dec. 31, 2027. It can be extended another five years if both the province and the WFPS agree.

The province says the new agreement will bring two more ambulances which will be staffed 24/7. There will also be cost-recovery certainty for the city and WFPS for services that are provided on an annual basis.

“This certainly will not solve in the totality of the issues that we’ve had with response times and the demand, but it is certainly going to take us a step in the right direction,” said Christian Schmidt, the fire and paramedic chief for the WFPS.

“A big part of our work and why this has taken so long was simplifying how we account for the costs of EMS, specifically in the City of Winnipeg,” said Helen Clark, the CEO of emergency response services for Shared Health.

The province said funding for the WFPS will be approved annually and linked to patient volume increases. For 2023, there will be baseline funding of $51.9 million as well as a one-time amount of $2.1 million.

Premier Heather Stefanson said the WFPS plays a vital role in the community.

“This agreement is a significant investment reflecting our government’s commitment to healing health care and ensuring emergency responders will continue to be able to offer support and compassionate care during moments of medical distress,” Stefanson said in a news release.

Mayor Scott Gillingham called this agreement a win-win scenario.

“I am grateful to all parties to get us to a place where we are at a full cost-recovery contract,” said Gillingham.

Schmidt said he is comfortable with the contract’s language and does not want to be without a contract for a long period of time again.

“While this is important, our time is also served focusing on the system and improving the system for not only the providers working within the system, but the patients that we serve,” said Schmidt.

Along with the two new ambulances, the money will also go towards hiring 20 new paramedics. Hiring is expected to start immediately.

Schmidt said he is aware some new staff could come from rural Manitoba.

“We do not want to be creating shortages in other parts of the province. So we very much need to be cautious as we move forward.”

He said he is going to talk to Shared Health to come up with a plan, and one option could be finding people on eligibility lists – which are people who are trained but not currently working.

When asked about the new contract, the union representing Winnipeg paramedics said time will tell if it will make an actual difference on the front lines.

“I think it comes up short,” said Kyle Ross, the president of the Manitoba Government and General Employees’ Union. “I think two ambulances and 20 paramedics is not going to reduce wait times that they want to see. I think there is a lot more work to be done.”

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