The Alberta government announced it will be creating a new committee and framework on Tuesday, aiming to address EMS concerns and improve health care across the province.
In a news release on Tuesday afternoon, the province said a new standing committee will be established to talk with paramedics and EMS staff to understand emergency health-care needs in various communities.
The committee, which will have a three-year term, will help the government’s ongoing assessment of the province’s EMS system and provide recommendations on how to improve the workforce, system performance and standards. This includes air ambulance, ground ambulance and medical first response.
Paramedics and first responders from various partner organizations, municipalities and Indigenous communities are invited to join the committee, the Alberta government said.
“Every minute counts when an Albertan experiences a medical emergency. Our government is committed to working with our EMS partners to strengthen emergency services across the province,” Health Minister Adriana LaGrange said.
“We invite them to participate in this standing committee as we work to improve response times and as we continue to implement the recommendations from both the Alberta EMS Provincial Advisory Committee and EMS dispatch review.”
The province also announced a new performance framework as part of its efforts to “refocus” the public health-care system.
According to Tuesday’s release, the framework sets out performance indicators, operational standards and mandatory reporting for EMS to make sure it is reliable and accountable. The government added that the framework will apply to all health-care service providers, including Alberta Health Services.
A new acute care organization will work with EMS and provide oversight over emergency health services as part of the new framework, the Alberta government said. This organization will also oversee cancer care, clinical operations and surgeries.
The new framework comes after an independent review of EMS operations in Alberta, which was announced by Alberta Health Services last June after a fatal dog attack in Calgary.
At the time, AHS said the independent review would look into the events surrounding the calls to EMS dispatch, call handling protocols, ambulance response times and availability of ambulance at the time of the attack.
A report by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) published in October found that EMS performance has declined since the start of 2022. The report said EMS’s response time for life-threatening situations increased from a 90th percentile (P90) of 15.5 minutes in Q2 2019 to a P90 of 21.3 minutes in Q2 2022. Response times have also increased across rural, remote and urban communities in the province.
P90 is the response time that 90 per cent of emergency events are below and is a typical measure for EMS performance, PwC said.
Response time and ambulance availability showed a relationship with response time, PwC said. The company noted that ambulance availability in Edmonton and Calgary reached an all-time low in December 2021.
However, PwC’s report said the decline in dispatch performance in Alberta could not be attributed to the province’s centralized dispatch model. The report found that in many cases, an “immediate improvement” was observed following centralization, including faster call handling time to the time a unit is dispatched.
PwC also said Alberta’s centralized dispatch model is aligned with many high-performing dispatch models globally, which have gone through similar changes.
New dispatch centre established in Wood Buffalo, Alta.
The Alberta government also announced it will create a new dispatch centre in Wood Buffalo, Alta., to address the needs of rural communities.
AHS will contract the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo to staff and run the emergency call centre, the release said. The centre will also use AHS technology to dispatch ambulances across the region, ensuring it is fully integrated with the EMS dispatch system.
This will ease the pressure on centres in Calgary, Edmonton and Peace River, the province said.
“This represents an important first step in EMS dispatch being restored to the municipality, and to the internationally recognized, local expertise, knowledge and experience of our own regional emergency services,” said Sandy Bowman, mayor of the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo.
“We thank Premier Danielle Smith and Minister Adriana LaGrange for their leadership in hearing our position and for taking action alongside local representatives, Minister Brian Jean, MLA Tany Yao, and others. This region is unique in many ways, and we have a provincial government that understands that when it comes to EMS dispatch.”