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Rural Emergency Response Unit

In an effort to boost services and improve response times, the Rural Emergency Response Unit (RERU) continues to make its rounds throughout the rural communities in Waterloo Region.

Waterloo Region Paramedic Services implemented the service about 15 years ago, and since then, seeing a RERU vehicle has become a normal part of rural life.

“This all began in an effort to improve the time it takes for an ambulance to arrive within our rural communities,” said Stephen Van Valkenburg, chief of the Region of Waterloo Paramedic Services.

“It is a big geographic area. This was originated to meet those response times and with the real focus being on care – care at the right time for the right person.”

RERU vehicles are staffed by a single paramedic from Waterloo Region Paramedic Services which currently staffs about 220 paramedics.

Two paramedics are on RERU duty throughout the day with one beginning their shift at 6 am and the other, at 12 pm.

They are deployed to rural communities including St. Jacobs and Ayr and depending on the amount and variety of calls received, they may be rerouted to another rural community.

When a call is received, dispatch has a RERU respond to the scene to provide care until an ambulance arrives.

“The service is for high emergency calls. The vehicles have virtually all of the same equipment including drugs and a defibrillator, with the only difference being that they are unable to transport patients,” Van Valkenburg says. “Having these vehicles on the road is also very cost effective compared to a regular ambulance.”

Paramedic Services responded to 55,000 calls last year in Waterloo Region and about 31,000 patients were transported to hospital.

When asked about the possibility of amalgamation of rural townships, Van Valkenburg says he has no idea of any impacts regarding paramedic services.

“We are regional and this includes the townships,” he said.

In April, Waterloo Region Paramedic Services received a surprise when the provincial government revealed its plan to drastically cut local ambulance centres, replacing them with fewer services covering a larger area.

The government plans to reduce the number of paramedic services from the current 59 to 10.

The budget also includes streamlining land ambulance dispatch services by “better integrating” emergency health services, operators and dispatch centres.

RERU vehicle on duty in the Townships, PHOTO: Barbara Geernaert

Currently, when someone dials 911 in Waterloo Region, the call is received at a central point, located in Hamilton, ON.

Since moving from Cambridge to Hamilton last year, there has been much debate surrounding issues of staffing and poor working conditions.

The dispatch service, which is run by the Ministry of Health, is however, scheduled to move back to Cambridge in the fall.

But how will these services be impacted by the new provincial reporting plan?

Waterloo MPP, Catherine Fife, told the Waterloo Region Record earlier this month that she was concerned.

“This is a vast province,” she said. “Northern and rural communities already have concerns about slow ambulance response times.”

Fife added that this is another example of the Ford government making changes without evidence and not consulting those most involved.

Van Valkenburg did not anticipate these changes and released a statement following the decision.

“I will be continuing to engage and discuss this matter with the Ontario Association of Paramedic Chiefs (OAPC) Board and gather as much information as possible to better understand what the provincial government’s intent is with regards to consolidation.

“Currently, the work paramedics do in the region of Waterloo each day is important and valued by our residents. We are committed to continuing this work and to providing excellence in patient care to everyone in our community who requires paramedic services.”

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