The Saskatoon Police Service will soon have a paramedic in its detention unit for 24 hours a day instead of 12.
The Board of Police Commissioners approved extending the police service’s contract with MD Ambulance to have paramedics working in detention cells on a 24-hour basis until the end of 2016. Chief Clive Weighill said the change could take effect as soon as June 1.
Weighill approached the board after a man died in a police cell last month during the 12-hour period when no paramedic was on duty. Detention unit staff found Michael Ryan, 38, unresponsive in his cell three hours after he was arrested for running into oncoming traffic on 22nd Street.
According to his family, Ryan struggled with substance abuse issues. The cause of his death has not yet been released.
Weighill said it is the second time someone has died since the police service entered into a contract with the Saskatoon Health Region in 2011 to have EMTs work in detention from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m.
No deaths have occurred while a paramedic has been on duty, he said, adding EMTs have intervened during heart attacks and treated people with diabetes.
“I don’t think you can put a price on a person’s safety. We are responsible for people that are in our care and we have to do everything we can to ensure their safety,” Weighill said following Thursday’s meeting.
The cost of funding a paramedic for an additional 12 hours is $163,000 for the remainder of the year and would be $245,000 in 2017. The Saskatoon Health Region provides a $150,000 grant each year, with the police service covering the rest in its operating budget. Weighill said he approached the board after exhausting other avenues for financial support, but the board will request funding from the Ministry of Corrections and Policing in the meantime.
Weighill believes it’s worth the money, even if there are periods when no one is in detention.
“We can’t go to a system where, well, let’s just call out a primary care paramedic when we need it, because we need them there when the person comes in. As you well know, if something is going to go wrong, it’s going to go wrong when we don’t have the primary care paramedic there.”
Inquests into deaths in police detention cells almost always end with recommendations for 24-hour paramedics, Weighill pointed out.