Paramedics conferencing in Niagara Falls today, voted unanimously to adopt a resolution setting strict conditions before they will endorse legislative changes soon expected to the rules governing the delivery of emergency services in Ontario.

Newly elected Chair of the CUPE Ambulance Committee of Ontario (CACO) Jason Fraser said Ontario’s frontline paramedics might support new legislation expanding their ability to decide if a patient should go to an ER or a different location such as a detox centre or a community clinic, “but only if the changes will not mean weakening hospital and ER funding or expanding the role of private health clinics in Ontario.” Fraser also says it is critical for the government to clarify issues of individual liability for paramedics under the new legislation.

According to the Ministry of Health, under existing Ontario law, paramedics have no choice but to take all patients they transport to a hospital ER whether or not, in their professional judgement, they think that’s where the person really needs to go.

The Canadian Union of Public Employees Ambulance Committee of Ontario (CACO) represents more than 5,500 paramedics and 911 dispatchers across Ontario, and is the largest paramedic group in the province.

Following today’s conference vote adopting the resolution, CACO Chair Jason Fraser and CUPE Ontario President Fred Hahn sent the resolution and a jointly signed letter to Health Minister Eric Hoskins highlighting their concerns and urging him not to introduce a Bill without first ensuring that Ontario’s paramedics “are on board with any proposed changes.”

“Making emergency medicine work better is always the right thing to do”, Hahn said in the letter to Hoskins, “but only when the people who actually deliver this critical support every day on the street are directly involved in designing and approving those changes.”

The ambulance workers’ conference, September 18-19 in Niagara Falls, also focussed on paramedics’ mounting opposition to government plans to introduce a so-called Fire-Medics model to Ontario under which a municipality might reassign the duties of paramedics to local fire departments.