Council considers ambulance’s future

  • Mar. 8, 2011 8:00 p.m.

By Treena Mielke

The town-owned ambulance service in Rimbey may change hands soon.

Mayor Sheldon Ibbotson said council will decide at its March 9 council meeting whether to keep the ambulance service or turn it over to Alberta Health Services. He said it is a decision that needs to be made quickly as the contract between the town and AHS comes up for renewal at the end of the month.

“They want us to sign on for another year, and then after that you would sign up for five years and then there are two, two-year extensions so really if you sign into it, it’s a 10-year extension.”

Ibbotson said it is a tough decision.

“If they take it over we lose control of the ambulance, the staff, everything. There are no guarantees as to what will happen although they have assured us it (the service) will not go out of town.”

On the flip side, owning the ambulance creates its own challenges, not the least of which is funding, said Ibbotson.

“As a town they consider us a non-profit organization. We cannot make a profit. We do all the billing but we do not get a profit, but if we have a loss, which can happen, we can ask them to make up the difference. They look at the request and they say ‘yes’ or they say ‘no’ or they modify it.”

The problem with the funding is that AHS is slow in reimbursing the losses, he noted, adding that the town has waited 14 months for around $8,000 that was to be reimbursed for a loss incurred in 2010.

“We have not received that funding and there is a real concern here,” he said.

Wages is another concern, said Ibbotson, adding that union negotiations are coming up for ambulance staff.

“We’re looking at perhaps an increase in the six-figure range, well over $100,000 and if we go to paramedics we’re looking at an increase there because they make about double, so maybe we’re looking at $200,000 to $300,000 just for that.”

Ibbotson would like to see Rimbey ambulance staff’s wages bumped up to the provincial average.

“I think it’s totally fair. I have no problem with them seeking the standard rate.”

However, he noted that even if the town agrees to the salary hike, AHS has to approve the provincial contract that has been negotiated, as well as fund the additional dollars that will occur as a result.

Owning the ambulance means the town is also responsible for other, unexpected expenditures, he said.

“Now if something else goes wrong such as the ambulance breaking down and we have to replace it, we have to fund that until Alberta Health Services approves it and provides the money and it’s obvious they’re pretty slow and we’re tight for money.”

Ibbotson said a letter has been sent to AHS to enquire what will happen if the town decides to terminate the contract, but they have not received an answer. They have been told, however, there is a six-month transition period before any changes take place.

“They won’t tell us any more. We’ve asked them in person. We’ve asked them in writing. What they will tell us is they will take the termination letter, assess the situation and they will make a determination. Our understanding is that if we wait until after April 1, it will automatically go to an RFP (request for proposal).”

The mayor said there are risks, no matter what decision is made.

“It seems to me that the risks of keeping it are greater than the risk of letting it go, but it is a tough decision.”

CAO Tony Goode said it may be in Rimbey’s best interest to let the ambulance service go back to the province.

“The big issue is we’re not in a financial situation to be paying out additional costs to the ambulance service without prior compensation from AHS. We can’t operate that way.”

He is confident the ambulance service will stay in Rimbey.

“We have a first class hospital and a new ambulance facility and we service a large area.”

The town owns two ambulances that are under a contract with AHS. They have another older ambulance which is used as a stand by, mostly for private functions.

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