‘It will cost lives’: Alberta mayors continue fight against EMS dispatch changes

Click to play video: 'Municipalities to fight EMS dispatch changes' Municipalities to fight EMS dispatch changes
Four Alberta mayors are warning that waiting for an ambulance will soon take longer, and that could endanger lives. The province is changing how EMS is dispatched in Calgary, Lethbridge, Red Deer and Fort McMurray, and as Breanna Karstens-Smith explains, the mayors are promising to fight the changes. – Sep 20, 2020

Four Alberta mayors are coming together to protest changes to the way ambulances are dispatched in their cities.

In August, Alberta Health Services announced it was centralizing the EMS dispatch services of Lethbridge, Red Deer, Calgary and Fort McMurray.

The mayors of those four cities have since penned a letter to the health minister raising their concerns.

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The move will bring the four cities in line with what is already done in 60 per cent of the province.

Currently those cities dispatch through municipal centres. Right now, when a 911 call comes in, a municipal employee answers and communicates with EMS and, if needed, fire.

After the changes, the call will go to the municipal dispatch centre but if EMS is needed, it will be transferred to an AHS dispatcher at one of three call centres across the province. That person will contact paramedics. If fire is also needed, the municipal dispatcher will have to be contacted to then reach out to firefighters.

“It’s not hard to figure out that that will take more time and more coordination,” Jody Butz, Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo’s fire chief told Global News.

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

Butz says the municipal dispatch is currently able to dispatch ambulances 48 seconds faster than the centralized system 90 per cent of the time. The standard for dispatch times is a total of 90 seconds.

Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo Mayor Don Scott said one of the major benefits is that the local dispatchers understand when people use terms like ‘Bridge to Nowhere’ to describe their location.

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“Many people do not have addresses in this region, so what they do is they describe their address by landmarks,” Scott explained.

Click to play video: '‘Shocking’: southern Alberta first responders react to EMS dispatch consolidation' ‘Shocking’: southern Alberta first responders react to EMS dispatch consolidation
‘Shocking’: southern Alberta first responders react to EMS dispatch consolidation – Aug 5, 2020

The call area covered by the Fort McMurray centre is roughly the size of Nova Scotia. Previous governments have considered the change but municipalities have always fought back.

That includes the Progressive Conservative government Don Scott served as an MLA under. At that time he was also against the move.

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

Health Minister Tyler Shandro claims the move is not motivated by money but is being made to bring the four cities in line with the rest of the province.

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It is expected to save $6 million annually.

“I would suggest that that’s marginal cost savings but the cost will be time,” Butz said.

The mayors have a meeting scheduled with the minister for later this month where they’ll raise their concerns.

The transition has already begun though.

“If they’ve already got their minds made up, that’s disappointing,” said Scott.

The dispatch switch over is expected to be completed in six months.

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