Code Red: A Global Alberta Special Report

March 12, 2016 12:34 am
Updated: March 12, 2016 12:36 am

Code Red: EMS red alerts down in Alberta, but problems still remain

WATCH ABOVE: More than one year after Global Alberta's special series put the spotlight on EMS code reds new numbers suggest things are improving, but serious problems remain. Heather Yourex-West reports.


CALGARY – According to new numbers from Alberta Health Services, EMS red alerts in both Calgary and Edmonton were down last year after numbers dramatically increased in 2014.

“2014 for us was a year in which we saw a relatively large influx of calls due to influenza,” Nicholas Thain, executive director, EMS South Sector for Alberta Health Services said. “We’ve made leaps and bounds in 2015 in bringing that number back down.”

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Early last year, several paramedics came forward to Global News expressing concern that code reds were happening so frequently, patients were being put at risk.

READ MORE: Code Red Part 1: Paramedics warn of lengthening response times 

According to AHS, in 2015 there were 39 red alerts called in Calgary. That’s less than the 60 called in 2014, but well above the 14 called in 2013 and 10 in 2012.

In Edmonton, where red alerts are tracked by the minute, there were 27 hours worth of red alerts in 2015, down from the 2014 high of 49 hours but still well above the 19 hours spent in red alerts during 2013, and 13 hours in 2012.

Code Red_CGY 2015Code Red_EDM 2015

(Graphic Credit: Cody Coates, Global News) 

READ MORE: FOIP requests reveal Alberta code red alerts on the rise

The president of the Health Sciences Association of Alberta, the union that represents paramedics in Alberta, says despite the improved numbers, serious problems with the system remain.

“An improvement is an improvement but if we look back, the 2015 numbers are still more than twice the number or hours of code red in 2012 and 2013,” Elisabeth Ballerman said.

“We don’t want to see code reds ever and I think we need to strive towards not having any of them.”

AHS says since 2014, they’ve changed how non-emergent patients are transferred between facilities but Thain admits, paramedics are still spending too much time waiting with patients in hospital emergency rooms.

“To be completely honest, we are currently seeing an increase in our hospital waits and that is certainly our number one challenge in being able to have resources back on the road in communities available to respond.”

Both AHS and the union also say the system needs more resources in order to bring code red numbers down.

Sarah Hoffman, Alberta’s health minister, says she is working to make sure there are an adequate amount of ambulances available in the province, even as Alberta struggles through challenging financial times.

“As the number of Albertans keep growing, we need to make sure that we have resources to help meet the needs of grown, so that certainly is a priority.”

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