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Paramedics and hospitals in Muskoka preparing for busier-than-usual summer

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The first half of 2022 has been busy for Muskoka Paramedic Services (MPS) and Muskoka Algonquin Healthcare (MAHC) and officials with both organizations don’t expect that to change. 

Compared to 2019, which Jeff McWilliam, Chief of Paramedic Services and Emergency Planning, considers MPS’ last “normal year” of service, the call volume is up by 25-per cent. In 2021, call volume, again compared to 2019, was 14.5-per cent higher. In 2020, which was the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, MPS’ call volume was down 7-per cent compared to the previous year. 

“Intuitively we can just feel the area is busier right now,” McWilliams says. “Even driving any of the towns, you can just see there’s more activity than we’re used to this time of year.”

McWilliam says MPS is used to seeing a spike in call volume in the summer, but not in the late winter months and spring. 

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However, McWilliam says they are prepared. He explains they’re in the process of hiring up to 20 more paramedics, which would add to the already record number of staffers. “We’ll have our highest staffing level that we’ve had since the [District of Muskoka] took over direct delivery in 2016,” he says. That number, he adds, will be around 125. 

Having a high staffing level will be vital as he expects things to get busier. McWilliams says MPS will also have additional resources on the road. “If we’re really having a big spike for something, maybe there’s a special event, or there is just something happening that we’re monitoring in real-time that we need to up staff for, we can anecdotally up staff here and there to address spikes in real-time,” he explains.

Meanwhile, the South Muskoka Memorial Hospital in Bracebridge and Huntsville District Hospitals are seeing an average of 60 emergency department visits a day, according to Vickie Kaminski, MAHC’s Interim President and CEO. 

She adds that includes few, if any, COVID patients. Kaminski says MAHC is not caring for any patients infected with the virus currently. 

Kaminski says both sites are currently running well over 100-percent capacity. “We still have more patients than we have beds, even if they’re not COVID patients,” she says.

However, she says MAHC, like MPS, is prepared for the potential increase in tourism the area will see this summer. “We’re hoping people will be really cautious,” Kaminski says. “We want them to be safe, we want them to enjoy themselves, but don’t take any chances.”

While restrictions have long since been lifted and many events are planned for the summer in Muskoka, Kaminski says MAHC staff at the two hospitals aren’t letting up. She explains they’re still instructed to follow proper COVID protocols. “It’s not like we can take our eye off that ball at all,” Kaminski says about the virus. 

With tourists set to be in the area in the coming weeks, she asks they understand not everything requires a trip to the hospital. “People are pretty good at discerning if this is more than just a cold, or this is more than just a pain I have,” she says. 

Understanding that, Kaminski says, will be important to help relieve the stress that healthcare providers will be dealing with this summer.

**Written by Mathew Reisler

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