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AHS files injunction to stop Wood Buffalo’s independent EMS dispatch decision

Click to play video: 'Fort McMurray defies Alberta EMS dispatch consolidation' Fort McMurray defies Alberta EMS dispatch consolidation
WATCH (Feb. 10): Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo councillors in Fort McMurray are digging their heels in and pulling out of Alberta's consolidated dispatch centres. On Tuesday night, they voted unanimously to stop transferring 911 calls to Alberta Health Services. As Nicole Stillger reports, the mayor says he's standing by the decision even if it costs him his job – Feb 10, 2021

Alberta Health Services and Alberta Health have filed a joint application for an injunction to the Court of Queen’s Bench, asking the court to prevent the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo from not transferring 911 calls to AHS EMS dispatch.

On Tuesday, RMWB council decided to defy recent changes to how EMS dispatch works in the province.

Read more: Wood Buffalo mayor says he stands by decision to ‘defy and resist’ Alberta’s EMS consolidation

“There are circumstances when acts of defiance and resistance are absolutely necessary,” Mayor Don Scott said. “When decisions are made by a level of government that put the health of our residents at risk in that region, then that’s one of them.

“We need to resist and defy that decision. And that’s exactly what my council did.”

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At Tuesday’s meeting, RMWB council unanimously supported a motion by Mayor Scott, to “provide notice to Alberta Health Services that the RMWB 911 Emergency Communications Centre will no longer transfer the 911 caller to AHS Provincial Dispatch Centre.”

Click to play video: 'Alberta mayors voice frustration following EMS dispatch decision' Alberta mayors voice frustration following EMS dispatch decision
Alberta mayors voice frustration following EMS dispatch decision – Oct 20, 2020

In a statement Thursday, AHS said legal action “is not a step we take lightly, however it is necessary to ensure ambulances continue to be dispatched appropriately, and that patient care is not put at risk.

“We are concerned that the municipality’s decision to no longer transfer 911 calls could adversely affect patient care.

“The municipality’s actions have removed EMS dispatch in the RMWB from the provincial system and created an outlier in this municipality. Following this move, AHS cannot guarantee patients will get timely, appropriate EMS care,” the statement continued.

Read more: Wood Buffalo council passes motion to defy Alberta’s consolidation of EMS dispatch services

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Jody Butz, the fire chief for the region, said there have been major issues since the service switched to the provincial dispatch plan on Jan. 19. He said local staff have been monitoring the transition and have had to intervene due to errors, mainly around local addresses.

“When we witnessed or observed glaring errors, we were intervening in some of those calls,” Butz said.

“The number of calls with degradation of service is actually more than (20 per cent). But the amount of calls that we intervened (in) was 20 per cent. That is far unacceptable for delivering an EMS service.”

Click to play video: 'Alberta mayors appeal to Kenney to step in on EMS consolidation' Alberta mayors appeal to Kenney to step in on EMS consolidation
Alberta mayors appeal to Kenney to step in on EMS consolidation – Oct 20, 2020

Mayor Scott said the region’s decision should not surprise AHS.

“We have been telling them for seven months that if they went through with the transition that they proposed, that there would be a reduction in service that would put our residents’ health at risk,” Scott said. “We made what I considered to be a strong decision, and we stand by it.

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“I challenge the provincial government to remove me as the mayor. I believe in this cause enough that I stand by it completely.”

In its statement Thursday, AHS said it hasn’t seen proof the change to EMS dispatch is hurting service.

“The municipality has not provided any evidence to AHS to suggest that the recent consolidation of EMS dispatch has led to any delays or inappropriate responses. In addition, the municipality has not provided any information that would back up their public claims that they need to intervene in specific EMS calls due to integration of dispatch.”

Read more: ‘This mistake is entirely preventable’: Alberta mayors push for pause in EMS dispatch consolidation

“AHS has looked into every event that has been raised to date, and there have been no issues or intervention required by the municipality.

“No information has been brought forward to show that dispatch consolidation has resulted in any adverse events, response delays or negative outcomes. Quite the opposite in fact – since consolidation first occurred over a decade ago, AHS EMS has successfully and safely dispatched over half a million calls each year,” AHS said.

The injunction will be presented in court 10 a.m. Friday.

— With files from Allison Bench and Phil Heidenreich

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