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Alberta government creates more EMS positions, but union says it’s not enough

Click to play video: 'Alberta government adding 19 ambulances to provincial fleet' Alberta government adding 19 ambulances to provincial fleet
The UPC government announced Wednesday it is ceating 100 new EMS positions and extending 70 temporary positions, which will put 19 new ambulances and five support vehicles on the streets. Tom Vernon reports – May 25, 2022

Alberta’s push to hire more paramedics is not enough to solve the crisis in the province’s emergency response system, according to the Health Sciences Association of Alberta (HSAA).

In a press release on Wednesday morning, Alberta’s health ministry announced it is creating 100 new EMS positions and extending 70 temporary positions in a bid to ease the province’s paramedic shortage.

These new EMS positions include:

  • 40 new primary care paramedic positions, 20 each in Calgary and Edmonton
  • 16 new emergency medical responders for inter-facility transfers, eight each in Calgary and Edmonton
  • Two new advanced care paramedics and two new primary care paramedics for suburban-rural coverage in Calgary
  • 40 new temporary rover positions (staff who may fill in at various stations in a zone) in Calgary and Edmonton. The north, central and south zones will each have 10 positions extended until March 2023.

The province also announced it has secured nine new ambulances: five will be deployed in Edmonton and four will be deployed in Calgary by the end of June. Ten more will be added to the fleet by the end of September, with five allocated in each city.

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Read more: ‘We’re on our knees’: Alberta EMS union says system on the verge of collapse

“Unfortunately in this province, we are running them so hard … It’s taking its toll on the crews,” HSAA president Michael Parker said at a Wednesday afternoon news conference.

“The problem is we don’t have any people to hire. We’ve got none left. (The positions) have been open for a while, so good luck finding them.”

Click to play video: 'Death of Alberta paramedic reignites discussion over state of EMS in the province' Death of Alberta paramedic reignites discussion over state of EMS in the province
Death of Alberta paramedic reignites discussion over state of EMS in the province – Dec 21, 2021

The announcement comes after new Alberta Health Services Emergency Services quarterly data showed ambulance response times in urban areas progressively worsened in the past year.

The HSAA previously said the situation is so dire that red alerts are becoming more common and more intense.

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Click to play video: 'Alberta EMS union says system on verge of collapse' Alberta EMS union says system on verge of collapse
Alberta EMS union says system on verge of collapse – May 10, 2022

Typically, red alerts are issued when there are no ambulances within a jurisdiction able to respond to emergency calls or for incidents that can potentially overwhelm local hospitals.

Read more: Urgent care needed for Alberta emergency departments: doctors

Health Minister Jason Copping said the new positions are part of the $587 million operating budget for EMS in Budget 2022, which included funding for an additional 20 ambulances in Edmonton and Calgary. Copping disagrees that the province has trouble hiring paramedics, however.

“We’re actually having success filling the positions, which is fantastic. This is all part of building our capacity for our health-care system,” Copping told reporters on Wednesday.

“These are fully funded (positions) and they’ve been fully funded for a long time.”

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Read more: Calgarians waiting longer in hospital emergency rooms: AHS data

Alberta NDP health critic David Shepherd criticized the press release, claiming the Alberta government is re-announcing past initiatives and funding that was put forward by the United Conservative Party.

He also urged the UCP to hire more permanent EMS staff, a demand the HSAA has also previously made.

“There is nothing normal about the crisis we are experiencing.

“We should be offering every paramedic permanent full-time positions with benefits, and we need to ramp up services and resources to address a worsening drug poisoning crisis,” Shepherd said.

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