Legal residents concerned over changes to ambulance services

EDMONTON- Residents in Legal are concerned changes to ambulance service in the town will have a detrimental impact on patient care.

For over 40 years the volunteer-based Legal and Area District Ambulance Service (LDAS) has been in charge of ambulance services for the area. However, over the past few years the volunteer base has declined due to larger call volumes, an increased response area and a more demanding training schedule, according to the town’s Deputy Mayor Trina Jones.

As a result, in 2012, LDAS approached Alberta Health Services (AHS) to ask for help maintaining the service.

Jones says AHS suggested a Core-Flex model that would see four emergency officials stationed in Legal. But, after putting together a proposal, LDAS was told by AHS the Core-Flex model was no longer an option and if there weren’t enough volunteers the contract would lapse on March 31, 2013, Jones said.

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On April 1, AHS assumed responsibility of ambulance services from LDAS, and ambulances from Morinville will now respond to Legal ambulance requests.

“Morinville is at least 20 minutes away, if their ambulance is ready to roll,” Jones said in an email to Global News. “Next in line would be Westlock or Redwater, at least a 30 minute response… This is unacceptable for residents of Legal as well as the surrounding rural area.”

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Jones is worried the loss of local ambulance services will result in increased response times, and force residents with disabilities and persistent medical conditions to relocate.

“The loss of service would impact all residents as illness and emergencies do occur suddenly and unexpectedly. We believe seniors will be impacted the greatest and may be forced to move out of town, away from their home and family members,” Jones said.

Those who have volunteered with LDAS for years say the move is devastating.

“We have members who have been with it for 38 years. So it’s a tough thing to lose in our community,” Tammy St. Jean said Sunday, holding back tears. “We’ve missed birthdays with our kids, we’ve missed Christmas dinners… because our community is important to us.”

A major concern for St. Jean is what might happen if the Morinville emergency crews are busy.

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“They’re busy because they’re a bigger community and they have the area that they have to cover, as well,” she explained. “I’ve already heard in the community where there’s been an injury and they loaded the person in their own vehicle and drove because they didn’t want to wait the 20 minutes to get an ambulance because they feel that in 20 minutes they can be almost to the hospital themselves.”

However, AHS maintains patient care will not be affected.

“I would like to assure you that access to timely, appropriate service will be maintained during the transition. Patient care is our highest priority,” Dale Weiss, Executive Director of the EMS Edmonton Zone said in a letter to the residents of Legal.

“These ambulances (from Morinville) are staffed with at least one paramedic who has expanded training and can provide advanced procedures including medication administration and cardiac or respiratory treatment. This is a higher level of service than the level currently provided by the volunteer service,” Weiss added.

Residents aren’t giving up hope, though.

“I guess we’re still holding out some hope that they’ll realize that it is a needed component and maybe they’ll approach us and we’ll be able to set up another contract and maybe we will go full time. I’m not sure,” St. Jean said.

AHS says it will monitor call volumes and response times in the Legal area “to ensure high quality service and system performance is maintained to Legal and area residents.”

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With files from Jenna Bridges. 

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