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Consolidation of EMS dispatch did not affect response to fatal dog attack: Alberta health minister

Click to play video: 'AHS announces independent review of EMS response to fatal dog attack'
AHS announces independent review of EMS response to fatal dog attack
A family member of Betty Williams, the woman who was killed by a trio of pet dogs as she was working in her backyard Sunday afternoon in a northwest Calgary neighbourhood, is speaking out. Jill Croteau reports. – Jun 9, 2022

The consolidation of EMS dispatch in Alberta did not affect the response to the fatal dog attack in Calgary on Sunday, Health Minister Jason Copping said.

Speaking to reporters at an unrelated news conference on Thursday morning, Copping said the call initially came in as non-urgent and emergency responders at the scene quickly saw it was a life-threatening situation.

An initial report published by Alberta Health Services indicates that the consolidation of EMS dispatch a year ago did not affect the response to the incident, Copping said.

Read more: ‘I should still have my auntie’: Family of fatal dog attack victim speaks out

“When we initially heard that the timing (for paramedics to arrive) was approximately 30 minutes — it is not acceptable,” Copping said.

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“I haven’t got a full assessment from AHS, but the initial assessment is that the consolidation of dispatch didn’t impact the nature of this call.”

“My heart goes out to the family and friends of the individual who passed away during this attack.”

Copping’s comments come as EMS wait times are under scrutiny, after three dogs fatally attacked 86-year-old Betty Williams in her northwest Calgary backyard on Sunday.

Click to play video: 'Calgary EMS in red alert at time of fatal dog attack'
Calgary EMS in red alert at time of fatal dog attack

It also comes after the province consolidated emergency dispatch services in Calgary, Lethbridge, Red Deer and Fort McMurray last year.

Calgary officials previously said the consolidation would result in call flow interruption and response delays, meaning “significantly longer” wait times for people needing an emergency response.

It was first reported that it took paramedics 30 minutes to answer the calls for help from neighbours — but an initial assessment by AHS suggested it wasn’t prioritized as a life-threatening call.

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An AHS spokesperson confirmed to Global News that Calgary was on “red alert” on Sunday, and 18 ambulances were waiting to offload patients at various medical facilities. All other ambulances in the Calgary zone were already assigned to events.

Read more: AHS reviewing EMS response time for fatal dog attack in northwest Calgary

AHS interim chief executive officer Mauro Chies said this is not an issue with a consolidated dispatch and everyone needs to “stick very clearly to the facts.”

“A call was put in with the information that was provided to our dispatch centre and we acted on the information that was provided at the time,” Chies said at a news conference on Thursday.

“I don’t see it as an issue of a consolidated dispatch. I see it as working with the information that was provided and reacting to what was required at that time.”

Chies also announced that an independent review of the EMS response to the dog attack will be conducted. The review will be done by an external, out-of-province investigator and will take approximately four months, but nobody has been chosen yet.

Click to play video: 'AHS announces independent review of EMS response to fatal dog attack'
AHS announces independent review of EMS response to fatal dog attack

He also noted an internal review has already been completed by AHS which found that paramedics acted with the best information they had at the time.

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“We’re aware of the concerns expressed about the time it took for an ambulance to arrive at the scene and we take those concerns very seriously,” Chies said.

“The external review is being done because of the severity of the incident that resulted in the tragic death… We’re hoping that the external review will either confirm our internal findings or if there are necessary immediate improvements that we can do.”

Read more: Alberta to table report with new recommendations to ease EMS pressures

Calgary conducting own investigation

The City of Calgary also announced it will be investigating the fatal dog attack, saying it welcomes AHS’ announcement that there will be an independent review.

“(We) are committed to supporting that process to our fullest ability. As this is still an active police investigation, we are unable to release recordings or transcripts of the call(s) at this time,” the city said in a statement late Thursday afternoon.

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Chief Steve Dongworth confirmed the Calgary Fire Department would be conducting its own internal investigation into the deadly incident.

Read more: City of Lethbridge committee hears about operational staffing struggles when it comes to fire, EMS

Mayor Jyoti Gondek said she’s not buying the claims from Copping and Chies that the incident wasn’t a malfunction of the dispatch system.

Gondek repeated claims from previous city councils that consolidation of EMS dispatch to a provincial system “will not work.”

“The system is broken,” the mayor said. “The bottom line is longer response times and additional unnecessary steps in the process of reporting a complex emergency drastically impacts patient outcomes.

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“Historically-speaking, the decision to move away from localized, integrated, tri-service model was in effect changing a system that reflected industry best practices which agencies around the world were actually trying to replicate.”

Gondek said council is maintaining its call to have a localized integrated dispatch model “which demonstrated an ability to respond to complex emergencies.”

“As our world is becoming increasingly uncertain and complex, it is critical we have the capacity to respond quickly, effectively and collectively.”

Read more: Alberta ombudsman says AHS decision on EMS dispatch not under her jurisdiction

She also said it was “devastating” to have to wait four months for the independent provincial review.

“I also want it to be done properly,” the mayor said. “But that four-month review into a single incident should not hold us up from understanding that the system doesn’t work.

“They need to go back to the system that existed – that was world-class. We need to go back to it or we will lose more lives.”

Family, friends left with questions

The grieving family of Betty Ann Williams, affectionately known as “Rusty”, is still consumed with disbelief and anger.

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Niece Candy Speck said she can’t help but wonder if her aunt could have possibly survived the traumatic dog attack if paramedics were there sooner.

“This isn’t right,” Speck said. “Tell the truth, be accountable – that’s what’s going to heal everybody in this community.”

She believes the system failed her aunt and can’t stop from thinking if it would have been faster for someone to have driven her to Foothills hospital, which is just 8 minutes from their Capitol Hill home.

Read more: Woman in her 80s attacked, killed by 3 dogs in northwest Calgary

“I could have been there with her and holding her hand, and not have her scared to death. I’m gutted and I relive every moment, and every time I blink, I see everything,” Williams’ niece said.

“I feel lost.”

Neighbor Nicola called 911 that Sunday afternoon. She says she spent an excruciating 35 minutes with “Rusty” while they waited for medical help.

“I was running down the alley. I heard an ambulance, I waved to them and they just drove right by,” Nicola said.

Click to play video: 'EMS call raises concerns after fatal dog attack in Calgary'
EMS call raises concerns after fatal dog attack in Calgary

She said they all deserve answers.

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“Every day I wake up and I think what could I have done differently. I beat myself up every bloody day wondering what could I have done differently,” Nicola said.

“I can only imagine the horror she went through. It’s almost unforgivable.

“This poor person had to go through 35 minutes of torture.”

–with files from Jill Croteau and Adam Toy, Global News

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