HORNEPAYNE – Several communities in the northwestern Algoma region are working together in an attempt to tackle shortages in crucial medical services.
Cheryl Fort, mayor of Hornepayne and the tri-community representative for the Algoma District Services Administration Board (ADSAB), addressed emergency medical service concerns faced by Hornepayne, White River, Dubreuilville, and Wawa in an open letter shared with Hornepayne municipal council on Nov. 1.
In the letter, Fort urged the three communities she represents and the council in Wawa to band together and pass a resolution of support to request a service delivery review, which would allow a third-party consultant to investigate and help identify solutions to the shortages and service disruptions those living in the northwestern region currently face.
Speaking to Dougall Media, Fort stressed that the request for the review is not about focusing on the problem, but rather identifying solutions that make it a “win-win” for the communities involved and ADSAB.
“It’s a multifaceted challenge,” Fort said. “That’s why we took the service delivery review route – it’s trying to create a win-win solution for ADSAB, for the three communities that I represent, plus the whole northwestern part of the Algoma district.”
"We want to ensure that [the paramedics on the ground] are supported, and if we’re missing anything there, this gives an avenue for people to speak frankly to an outside consultant... Sometimes it’s good to get outside eyes to look at something, and they might see something that’s very different, and that comes along with that trust, right? That people can talk to them, your names aren’t recorded, [and] they’re just gathering information to see the challenges so we can come up with some honest solutions.”
Fort came to believe the model for medical services in the region needed a review pre-pandemic, she said, when the province considered reducing funding for critical services like EMS.
She took a strong stance against that decision and started advocating for a solution.
Fort said things became more serious in January 2023 with concerns about call-and-response times, lack of access to care, and the strain paramedics were facing in and around Hornepayne.
One of her big concerns is keeping medical service workers in the north – an issue northern communities are currently facing across the board.
"I think the most challenging aspect right now is labour retention… and recruitment," Fort said. "Now, we’re seeing that right across the province and Canada… but, because of northern Ontario and the lack [of access] to services – some of the communities aren’t very large – I think that all plays into ensuring we’re retaining people."
"It’s not like going into a situation with a pre-conceived model that we want to get to, it’s more [that] this model we have works at a level that’s not meeting all of our needs within our communities. It’s causing stress to not only the paramedics that work under it but also the administrative staff that are trying to recruit and retain people."
Fort said Wawa and the three communities she represents – Hornepayne, White River, and Dubreuilville – have begun sending her expressions of support for the resolution. She plans to bring those resolutions, along with a presentation, to an ADSAB board meeting.
She is hopeful the agency can then begin budget consultation regarding who they might hire to perform the service delivery review, which she said could take around 10 months to complete.
In the meantime, she recognizes that all communities and organizations involved are dealing with their own concerns but are equally invested in achieving a medical model that serves everyone fairly and keeps people safe.
"We realize that ADSAB has their challenges, all of our communities have our challenges, and the people on the ground, of course… they’re dealing with the first response and then having to deal with any sort of challenges in their work environment," she said. "Everyone has their challenges – this is really about [finding] some solutions that we might be able to present or advocate for that bring better results for our residents."
Austin Campbell, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, SNnewswatch.com