Health minister promises support for rural EMS; AHS working on plan

CALGARY – Alberta’s health minister says rural ambulances will no longer be allowed to spend long periods of time working outside their own jurisdiction.

“We’ve heard time and time again that rural communities are concerned their ambulances go into the city then all of a sudden they’re doing services for the urban community.  This will not be allowed; they must return right to their community,” said Alberta Health Minister Stephen Mandel during a news conference in Edmonton Wednesday morning.

READ MORE: Back to the past – Alberta returns to decentralized health care

As Global News reported in a special series called “Code Red,” a number of paramedics have been sounding the alarm over rising ambulance response times for months.  Rural paramedic George Porter says rural areas are often left exposed because ambulances are pulled into urban centres—either to help with emergency calls or with non-emergency patient transfers.

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

“The main challenge is area coverage—it has been for a long period of time,” Porter explained. “We routinely pull the only ambulance in a community out of the community to transfer patients that just need a ride to an appointment.”

Alberta Health Services operates EMS.  CEO and President Vickie Kaminski says they’re working to make improvements to rural service but warns changes won’t be made overnight.

“I would think over the course of the next four or five months we’ll have specific strategies and actions for EMS.”

Kaminski adds those strategies will include a new system for non-emergency patient transfers, although right now she admits AHS doesn’t know what that system may be.

“It may be a purchase service, it may be a contract out, it may be [adding] additional resources within the EMS; we haven’t ruled anything out.”

READ MORE: Code Red – Albertans share their experiences with ambulance services