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Alberta mayors express concern over EMS 911 dispatch consolidation

An EMS vehicle in Calgary. File/Global News

Mayors of communities affected by the recent announcement that emergency medical services 911 dispatch will move from a municipally run service to now be a part of Alberta Health Services expressed their concerns over the change Wednesday.

On Aug. 4, AHS announced the province will be consolidating all remaining municipally run EMS dispatch call sites in a move that it says will save money and improve patient care.

The change will affect EMS 911 dispatch services in Calgary, Lethbridge, Red Deer and the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo.

Read more: Consolidating EMS 911 dispatch services will save money, improve patient care: Alberta Health Services

The decision to consolidate the service comes following a report released in February from Ernst and Young, an independent contractor hired to complete a comprehensive review of AHS for improvement and cost-saving methods.

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However, during a news conference on Wednesday, officials said this report was conducted without any input from the affected municipalities.

“It was done without consultations and discussions.”

Red Deer Mayor Tara Veer said the affected municipalities are frustrated not only with the decision but also with the lack of communication from AHS.

She added the communities were scheduled to have a consultation with AHS regarding the consolidation of dispatch services in late July, however, she said that meeting was cancelled and instead officials received word just minutes before the rest of the world that the consolidation process would indeed be moving forward.

“We would like to be very clear in our position that this issue is about people and not politics — because in the chain of survival, seconds matter,” Veer said.

“For us to receive notice yesterday when we were promised consultation with Alberta Health Services…  I think Albertans deserve better than that,” she said.

Read more: Lethbridge mayor voices concern over suggested 911 dispatch consolidation

The idea to consolidate these services is nothing new, Lethbridge Mayor Chris Spearman said it’s something that has been visited and rejected several times in the past.

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“In short, EMS dispatch consolidation was a bad idea when it was proposed in the past and it’s a bad idea now,” Spearman said.

Despite claims that the consolidated service will be more efficient, Wood Buffalo Mayor Don Scott said the system will add seconds to patient wait times — something that’s especially problematic for his region.

“My region has a service delivery area the size of Nova Scotia and there is absolutely no doubt the AHS consolidation will cause delays,” Scott said.

“90 per cent of the time our municipality dispatches an ambulance faster than the AHS.

“No one knows the region like our own people, we can best protect families with the exisiting model.”

However, AHS’s chief paramedic says patient times will not be affected with the new system.

“This consolidation will allow us to be more efficient, allows better coordination of our resources by allowing EMS to send the nearest available ambulance regardless of anty geographic or municipal boundaries,”  Darren Sandbeck said in an interview with Global News Radio 770 CHQR Wednesday.

“The times will be the same, this actually changes nothing from the callers perspective,” he added. “It will be dispatch being done on a different location by AHS staff, so the call transfers are instantaneous and they will go to one of our dispatch services.”

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The Mayors noted they are asking both the minister of health and the premier to re-think the decision and listen to those who know the systems best.

“This is an attack on our frontline emergency response,” Scott said.

“I would encourage every concerned citizen to contact their MLA’s and minister Shandro to support our position.”

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In a news release on Tuesday, it said the consolidation will allow the EMS system to send the nearest available ambulance to a patient regardless of geographic boundaries. The government also said it will save more than $6 million per year.

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In a statement to Global News on Wednesday, press secretary to Health Minister Tyler Shandro noted the money saved with this new process will be reinvested into the healthcare system.

“The $6 million a year saved through common-sense change will be invested right back into front-line health care,” Steve Buick said.
He added the consolidated system is already in place for much of the province.
“AHS already handles EMS dispatch for over 60 per cent of the population and the vast majority of Alberta’s communities, including Medicine Hat, Grande Prairie, Lloydminister, Edmonton, Airdrie and Okotoks.”

Officials said the change that will take place over the next six months will not affect the local dispatch of municipal fire, police and medical first response services.

— With files from The Canadian Press

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