Both the Town and Municipal District (MD) of Bonnyville Councils have agreed not to contribute extra funds to the Bonnyville Regional Fire Authority (BRFA) to operate the Emergency Medical Services Division, as operational funding is the responsibility of the province under Alberta Health Services (AHS). Regional Fire Chief for BRFA, Brian McEvoy, says the board is reassessing the delivery model for the Town and MD service to work with in AHS funding.
Chief McEvoy explains the ambulance service hasn’t been funded by the Town or the MD in the past, “it’s a common misconception.” The misconception comes from decades ago, when the service was funded by the Town and MD, “originally back in 70’s to start the service. The ambulance service has always been self-funded since.” The ambulance service moved under the BFRA in the last two years, explains McEvoy, “the Town and MD haven’t stopped funding the ambulance service, the Councils have passed motions to not fund any deficits that the EMS operation has.” This move is the position that the MD took with the Cold Lake Ambulance Society, explains McEvoy, “it’s the same position they took with Cold Lake Ambulance, they’re taking with Bonnyville.”
Mayor of Bonnyville, Gene Sobolewski explains the motion, “it’s not a stop funding. The Town and MD both have passed motions that we’re not going to subsidize the ambulance service. What’s happened is, the ambulance service is continuously being under funded by the provincial government. This contract that we’re working under, dates back to the previous government, where the mindset was ‘save money’. So they basically strangulated the ambulance service.”
“Prior to this contract there was an accumulation of reserves,” the Mayor explains, “this was to buy additional ambulances and things like this. So what’s happened is, because of the funding deficit, there’s always been a draw-down on this reserve account, to be able to make up the difference. Sometime in the next few months, we’re anticipating, this reserve is going to be depleted. The motion from the Town is that we’re not going to top up, or subsidize, the provincial program.”
“Ever since I’ve been deemed Mayor, we’ve been lobbying both governments, to knock off this strangulation [the ambulance service] is going through. The big problem is the provincial government is mandating us to operate in a means that they deem fit and we’ve always been in disagreement with that.” Mayor Sobolewski says the ambulance service in the community is stellar, “now we’re telling the ambulance service that they have to operate within their means. I’m not sure yet what the implications of that will be.”
In essence, we’ve made it very public, that the Town of Bonnyville is not going to subsidize a provincial program. Gene Sobolewski Mayor of Bonnyville
The average resident won’t see a change in service, says McEvoy. “After the Town and MD made the motion that there would be no additional tax money going into the EMS services, they directed us to work within the funding envelope of AHS. As an authority, we’ve been directed by our board to work within that funding envelope.” Basically meaning, BFRA management has been given direction to develop a plan by the board. The plan will be a while away from development.
We’ve got our marching orders and we’re going to figure out how best to do this. -Brian McEvoy Regional Fire Chief Bonnyville Regional Fire Authority
The BFRA will continue to own the ambulance service, which will allow the M.D. and the Town to continue to have direct input into the local delivery of Emergency Medical Services. “In 2012, the provincial government privatized the ambulance services,” explains Mayor Sobolewski, “it’s all under AHS. AHS looks after it all and they have a bunch of private contractors out there. Some of us municipalities out there said, ‘no. We would still like to have some semblance of say and direction on the ambulance service.’ Being that we were operating the ambulance before in a cooperative nature, between the Town and MD, we wanted to continue doing that. So we had to sign a contract, jointly, with AHS and that where there’s been a lot of conflict; because there’s been this funding strangulation.”
“AHS dictates a lot of policies,” the Mayor explains, “what’s happening is, we’ve just pushed back a bit and said, ‘if you need these services operated in a certain manner, we’re not going to subsidize a provincial program.’ The reserves are depleting and we’re not going to top it up.”