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Alberta sees historic demand for paramedics: AHS

Click to play video: 'Alberta paramedics union concerned with increase in calls, ‘red alert’ ambulance shortages' Alberta paramedics union concerned with increase in calls, ‘red alert’ ambulance shortages
WATCH ABOVE: A decrease in staffing and a historic number of emergency calls has Alberta's paramedics union warning of a system collapse. Breanna Karstens-Smith reports on all the red alerts — times when there aren’t any ambulances available — the HSAA says are happening across the province. – Jan 11, 2022

Editor’s note: This article has been changed to highlight that not all supervised consumption sites have been shut down. Global News regrets the error.

The Alberta paramedics union is raising concerns with the province seeing a historic number of calls for paramedics.

According to Alberta Health Services, EMS has experienced a 30 per cent increase in emergency calls. The health authority said this increase has occurred “over the past several months.”

COVID-19 and opioid patients are driving that demand with a large number of inter-facility patient transports of people with the virus.

Extreme weather is also playing a role, with both the record hot summer and dangerously cold winter leading to more weather-related 911 calls.

“Our EMS system is stretched to a point where we’ve never been,” said Mike Parker, the president of the Health Sciences Association of Alberta.

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Read more: Alberta paramedic union sounds the alarm over ambulance resources

A red alert or “code red” refers to times when there aren’t any ambulances available to respond to calls.

The union said on Monday there were more than a dozen red alerts in the Edmonton area. Those usually aren’t called unless there is a major disaster.

“That is a time when our system is driven to a point where we have no available resources,” Parker said.

“An example would be a Pine Lake tornado (or) the tornado (in) ’87 that hit Edmonton.”

AHS admits there have been staff illnesses and fatigue.

“We are extremely grateful to our EMS staff, who continue to go above and beyond to help Albertans in times of need,” a spokesperson said in a statement.

In Edmonton, response time targets are normally eight minutes at the 50th percentile and 12 minutes at the 90th percentile.

December 2021 saw the median within eight minutes but the 90th percentile hit about 14 minutes.

“It is important to note that the current situation is not unique to Alberta, with EMS pressures being felt by all Canadian provinces, including British Columbia, as well as internationally,” AHS said.

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Parker called that response a “failure,” saying the problem was decades in the making.

Read more: Alberta paramedics overworked and exhausted: union

The union head believes there is a significant staffing shortage and a severe lack of community services.

“We’ve got crews that are dealing with (a) non-stop opioid crisis all day long,” Parker said, adding matters have been made worse by the closure of some supervised consumption services in the province.

“All of these pieces indicate a system that is being systematically deconstructed at this moment.”

AHS added 232 paramedics across Alberta over the past two years.

It is working with emergency room departments to reduce the amount of time paramedics spend waiting with patients. A spokesperson also said other initiatives were in the works.

Parker said he is worried about Albertans who need help before that.

“There will be a paramedic responding to your mom and they will be the highest-trained paramedics that this country has. Their ability to get there is the problem we are facing right now.”

Alberta Health would not comment on the situation, instead deferring to AHS.

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