Coun. Stephen Blais Makes Paramedic Debate Personal

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CBC / Radio Canada

An Ottawa city councillor who himself required emergency assistance in 2013 after suffering a massive heart attack became incensed with several of his colleagues Thursday when they questioned the need for more paramedics.

Cumberland Coun. Stephen Blais became emotional during Thursday’s meeting of the community and protective services committee, which was considering whether to approve the recommendation to hire an extra 36 paramedics.

Representatives from the Ottawa Paramedic Service made the case to the committee that the new recruits will help the city meet its own targets for how quickly ambulances reach people in cardiac arrest or other life-threatening situations.

“I’m a little shocked that anyone … doesn’t believe intuitively that reducing response times will help save lives,” Blais said.

“Out of hospital cardiac arrest you have less than a 10 per cent survival rate,” he said, overcome with emotion. “For every minute of response time your survival rate declines by 10 per cent. So those are just the facts.” Blais suffered a heart attack on Jan. 7, 2013, at the Goodlife Fitness in Place d’Orléans and spent the next three months recovering in hospital.

Councillors asked about dispatch issues, other factors

Councillors Tobi Nussbaum and Riley Brockington did question paramedics over whether there was a direct correlation between faster response times and more ambulances on the road, or whether dispatching issues or other factors might have been responsible for a dip in the city’s response time efficiency. Paramedics have a six-minute target to make it to people with in sudden cardiac arrest. Though paramedics are expected to meet that target in 65 per cent of cases, paramedics only achieved the six-minute mark 63.7 per cent of the time in 2015.

“Are we barking up the [wrong] tree here by being so focused on response times and not looking at dispatch issues?” Nussbaum asked.

In the end both Nussbaum and Brockington approved the report recommendation to add the paramedic hires to the draft budget. But Nussbaum cautioned that budgets were balancing acts involving a number of competing pressures. “We may only be able to respond to some [of those pressures], and we have to balance ultimately issues surrounding this with other budget priorities and what that means for the tax rate,” he said.

‘I’ve spent a little bit more time thinking about it’

After the meeting, Blais took issue in particular with Nussbaum’s comment, accusing him of “holding hostage” the money during the budget process to further his own projects.

Blais acknowledged he has a more personal understanding of the issue.

“You know, maybe I get it more, maybe I’ve spent a little bit more time thinking about it,” he said. “But as I said, I think it’s pretty intuitive to know that the quicker someone can get to you to help you, the better your chances are.

“When it’s your husband, your wife, your parents, those 20 seconds matter,” he said.

The committee approved the report to budget for 24 paramedics to be hired in the spring of 2017, and a dozen more in 2018.

The report will go to city council for a decision on Oct. 26, ahead of the upcoming draft budget to be tabled Nov. 9.