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Alberta mayors disappointed motion to reverse centralization of EMS dispatch defeated

WATCH ABOVE: Some Global News videos about EMS dispatch services in Alberta.

Four Alberta mayors issued a joint statement Monday voicing their disappointment that the latest attempt to reverse a decision to centralize their 911 dispatch centres had failed.

The mayors of Calgary, Red Deer, Lethbridge and Wood Buffalo have spent months fiercely voicing their opposition to the province’s move, which would transfer 911 calls from the municipalities to a single, provincial dispatch centre.

Yet a motion from Lethbridge-West MLA Shannon Phillips to scrap the changes was unable to pass the Alberta legislature Monday.

“We strongly dispute the effectiveness of this consolidated system, and we are disappointed that the issue did not receive majority support in the Legislative Assembly,” Red Deer Mayor Tara Veer said in a news release.

“We are asking all members of the Legislative Assembly to continue to do what is best for Albertans in the name of health and safety and hear the concerns of communities across our province.”

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The mayors who oppose the changes have argued the move could harm the effectiveness of emergency dispatch services in their communities.

Click to play video: 'Fort McMurray defies Alberta EMS dispatch consolidation' Fort McMurray defies Alberta EMS dispatch consolidation
Fort McMurray defies Alberta EMS dispatch consolidation – Feb 10, 2021

Last month, Wood Buffalo councillors unanimously passed a motion that calls for the municipality’s emergency communications centre to no longer transfer 911 calls to a provincial dispatch centre run by Alberta Health Services.

Days later, a judge granted an interim injunction ordering Wood Buffalo to resume transferring emergency medical calls to a provincial dispatch centre.

READ MORE: Judge grants interim injunction to Alberta government in EMS dispatch dispute 

“Since the consolidation of EMS dispatch, each region has experienced significant issues, in varying degrees, with the consolidated service,” the mayors’ joint statement read.

Click to play video: 'Mayor Nenshi concerned about consolidating EMS dispatch as province pushes forward with plan' Mayor Nenshi concerned about consolidating EMS dispatch as province pushes forward with plan
Mayor Nenshi concerned about consolidating EMS dispatch as province pushes forward with plan – Jan 12, 2021

Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi said the province never made the evidence publicly available that further centralizing emergency dispatch services will benefit the citizens of municipalities affected by the changes, “which should have been a massive red flag that they were unprepared to implement their plan.”

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“This is totally unacceptable, and is clearly a matter of life of death. I continue to call on the government of Alberta to reverse this decision,” he said.

Lethbridge Mayor Chris Spearman said he believes the debate about dispatch services is “a non-partisan issue.”

“It is about recognizing the importance of community safety and preserving the effectiveness of emergency services,” he said.

“We are disappointed in the outcome of the decision.”

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

Wood Buffalo Mayor Don Scott noted his municipality was not mentioned in the motion because of a current court application regarding the issue.

“We continue to support the intent of the MLA’s motion, and we stand shoulder to shoulder in support of our like-minded fellow municipalities,” he said.

The mayors called for a third-party review of the EMS dispatch system “to provide recommendations to improve Alberta’s emergency services.”

Click to play video: 'Alberta mayors ask for investigation into EMS dispatch' Alberta mayors ask for investigation into EMS dispatch
Alberta mayors ask for investigation into EMS dispatch – Feb 1, 2021

Phillips said her motion was intended to push the government to listen to municipal leaders and to return control of emergency dispatch to local communities.

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“This scheme was thoroughly studied and rejected by both PC and NDP health ministers, and the Wildrose Party was also harshly critical of it in Opposition,” she said in a statement issued Tuesday.

“I was extremely disappointed to see UCP MLAs in Red Deer, Calgary and Fort McMurray submit to Jason Kenney’s centralization of control of EMS dispatch and vote against the interests of their communities.”

A spokesperson for Alberta Health told Global News on Tuesday that the NDP is trying to politicize this issue.

“AHS has dispatched ambulances successfully for 60 per cent of Albertans (and the vast majority of the land area of the province) since 2009, including Edmonton and area,” Steve Buick said.

“Integrating ambulance dispatch with the health system in the remaining four cities aligns them with EMS best practices in other provinces and countries, from B.C. to the U.K. and Australia.”

Alberta Health said the health minister met with the four mayors to hear their concerns before the changeover, and followed up with a letter answering them in detail.

“AHS has reviewed and responded to all the specific concerns raised by the four cities, and assured us that the changeover has not impacted performance,” Buick said.

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Alberta Health added response times are posted on the AHS website, the province said, which show response times in Edmonton (where AHS has handled dispatch since 2009), were consistently shorter than in Calgary prior to the changeover.

A process has been established so that Alberta Health and AHS can work with the four municipalities “to continue to improve EMS services.”

READ MORE: Alberta health minister moves forward with changes to EMS dispatch despite opposition from mayors, first responders 

In October, Health Minister Tyler Shandro decided not to block AHS’ plan to further consolidate EMS dispatch services despite vocal opposition from mayors who pleaded with him to intervene.

In the summer, AHS made the decision to further consolidate EMS dispatch services based on recommendations from the Health Quality Council of Alberta in 2013 and the AHS Performance Review by Ernst and Young in 2019.

Click to play video: 'As EMS dispatch changes in Alberta come into effect, mayors ask government to reconsider' As EMS dispatch changes in Alberta come into effect, mayors ask government to reconsider
As EMS dispatch changes in Alberta come into effect, mayors ask government to reconsider – Jan 11, 2021

In a letter addressed to the mayors in October, Shandro said “the plain fact is that dispatch and overall response times are similar across the province,” adding that the consolidation effort was not driven by cost savings.

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“It will result in savings of several million dollars a year, but not one dollar will be removed from the EMS budget,” he wrote in his letter. “Every dollar AHS saves will be reinvested directly back into improving ground-ambulance services.

“There’s no good reason to keep spending $9 million a year on these contracts. That’s $9 million that should be invested in improving service – not in redundant dispatch.”

The changes took effect in January.

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