Foleyet residents concerned they could lose ambulance service

Manitoulin-Sudbury District Services Board is looking into making changes to services

Sarah MacMillan · CBC News · Posted: Apr 13, 2022 5:00 AM ET | Last Updated: April 13

Jamie-Lee Reardon started a petition calling on the Manitoulin-Sudbury District Services Board to maintain ambulance service in Foleyet. (Submitted by Jamie-Lee Reardon )

People in the small community of Foleyet, Ont., are voicing opposition after learning the town could lose its ambulance service. 

The Manitoulin-Sudbury District Services Board, which serves a large swath of northeastern Ontario, is considering several options to make changes to ambulance services throughout the district — and which could see both Foleyet and Killarney lose their ambulances. 

Lifelong Foleyet resident Jamie-Lee Reardon said "immediate panic went through my mind," when she learned that option was on the table.

Reardon started an online petition which has more than 1,600 signatures, calling on the board to keep ambulance services in the isolated community. According to the report before the board, there were 90 ambulance calls in Foleyet last year. 

Weighing many factors 
The report looking at ambulances services was prepared by the Paul Myre, the chief of paramedic services for the Manitoulin-Sudbury District Services Board. 

After becoming chief last year, Myre began looking into the needs throughout the district, looking at call volume, response time, and locations of stations. 

The report found that the district's current 12 stations are adequate for responding to most calls, but that a 15-station model could be better for providing equitable coverage. It found some areas  — notably Manitoulin Island — could be better served. 

Paul Myre is the chief of paramedic services for the Manitoulin-Sudbury District Services Board. (Submitted by Paul Myre)

In order to make that financially feasible, there would need to be changes to service in other areas. 

The report provides three options for that would affect services in Foleyet and possibly Killarney, two communities with the lowest call volumes. Those include getting rid of the station in Foleyet altogether, offering seasonal coverage in the two communities in the summer, or removing the ambulances in the two communities, but having a community paramedic in each. 

After presenting the report to a sub-committee of the board last month, Myre said he was instructed to further investigate the option of relying on community paramedics. The other options, he said, were not supported. 

'It's not acceptable,' says MPP Reardon said even the option of having only a community paramedic in Foleyet would not be adequate, and she said losing ambulance service would be "devastating" for those who rely on it, particularly elders in the community. 

"The one hour that it takes to get from the ambulance leaving Foleyet to get to the hospital is already a long enough wait time for somebody to be able to get to proper medicine and proper machines that are needed in the life saving situation. To add additional time to that one hour is careless, honestly," Reardon said. 

Nickel Belt MPP and opposition health critic France Gélinas said she's heard a lot of concerns from Foleyet residents in the last two weeks. She said the board shouldn't even be considering removing ambulance services. 

"I have nothing against Manitoulin Island. I saw the numbers, yes, they need more support. But that does not mean that a very isolated community like Foleyet in the north end of my riding that is hours away from Timmins or Chapleau … can go without service. It's not acceptable," Gélinas said. 

NDP health critic France Gelinas said she's been hearing concerns from many constituents about the potential loss of ambulance service in Foleyet. (Bienvenu Senga/Radio-Canada )

Myre said providing equitable service throughout a vast district is a constant challenge, and that it's his " job as chief is to look at the entire picture," and to "have some difficult conversations."

"There's no appetite to close stations ever. And there's no appetite to remove any services in those communities. These options that were in my report were in the absence of additional funding required," Myre said. 

Myre said his next report, which will be brought to the board in May, will look at "human factors" as well as considerations like how such a change would affect ambulances in other communities, including Timmins. It's entirely possible, he said, that the board could decide not to make any changes to the services in Foleyet and Killarney.