March 16, 2018 8:35 pm
Updated: March 16, 2018 9:02 pm

Calgary’s ‘red alert’ points to ‘medical crisis’ in Alberta: paramedic union president

An ambulance in Edmonton in March 2015.

Global News
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The president of the union that represents the province’s paramedics says Albertans are “experiencing a medical crisis” and more needs to be done to ensure adequate emergency services for cities and towns.

The comments from Health Sciences Association of Alberta (HSAA) president Mike Parker came after a red alert was declared in the Calgary Zone on Thursday morning.

A red alert means there are no ambulances available to respond to calls.

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READ MORE: EMS calls red alert as winter storm blew through Calgary Thursday morning

Roads in the Calgary area were messy and snow-covered on Thursday morning as a winter storm blew through the city, which resulting in an increase in calls for the zone.

EMS received 118 calls for service between 8 a.m. and noon, EMS spokesperson Adam Loria said Thursday, whereas on a regular morning they’d receive about 85.

That increase in calls led to a 25-minute period where no ambulances could attend to calls. Loria said there were a small number of non-life-threatening calls that had to wait a short while.

A situation like that is unacceptable and the result of a staff shortage, Parker said.

“Front-line paramedics have been warning about a shortage of ambulance resources for many years,” Parker said in an email to Global News on Friday.

“This is Alberta. We get lots of snow. We need an EMS system that is able to cope with that and not run out of ambulances.”

Parker went on to say the union is analyzing information gathered through a freedom of information request to Alberta Health Services to get a better idea of the state of the province’s resources. The results are expected to be released next week.

He did say that in the past four years, paramedics have seen an increase in demand for service.

“The number of EMS events went up by nearly 20 per cent from 2012-13 to 2016-17, while the number of ambulances went up by only 2.9 per cent.”

READ MORE: Winter weather causes over 100 crashes on Calgary roads

When asked on Friday about the call number and ambulance increases, as well as whether Alberta is in a “medical crisis,” Nick Thain, executive director of EMS operations in the South Sector, issued the following statement:

“We know that from time to time EMS operations are put under pressure due to acute spikes in call volumes due to severe weather. Yesterday’s surge in demand was due in large part to motor vehicle collisions in snowy, slippery conditions. EMS will always respond to emergencies to provide patient care by repositioning units from other communities, deferring non-urgent transfers, deploying supervisors, and using single paramedic response units to provide care. Off-duty staff can also be called in if the need arises, and this is what happened yesterday. We have processes in place to ensure that anyone who needs emergent care will receive it. It’s important to note that these extremely high demand situations usually last a very short amount of time and, even in the busiest times, EMS still responds to all emergencies to provide patient care. I’m very proud of every front-line staff member that worked so hard yesterday under tough circumstances to provide high-quality care to patients. Their efforts are appreciated.”

The HSAA represents 25,000 healthcare professionals in the province, including 3,400 paramedics.

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