The Town of Coaldale is looking to transition back to a service provider contract with Alberta Health Services to help its struggling EMS system, according to the town’s mayor.
Jack Van Rijn believes its current “direct delivery” system — where AHS operates two ambulances out of the Coaldale Health Centre — isn’t working.
Coaldale has been under this model for around 12 years.
“They told us they would be able to take over the service and have the same level of care that we (had) when we were in control of it, and that’s not happening by any means,” he explained.
Prior to 2010, Coaldale operated fire and emergency medical service ambulances under one roof.
Nearby municipalities, including Lethbridge, use this model and Coaldale is hoping to return to it as well.
“A few of the benefits that we see from a contracted service is bringing EMS back to the fire hall and combining those two services so that way we know where the ambulances are, we have a little more knowledge of what’s going on,” said the director of protective services Kevin McKeown. “We have control over the staff and how those ambulances are staffed.
“We just want an equivalent level of service that other communities are getting.”
According to McKeown, the fire department has been under pressure due to rising code reds — where the fire department responds first to calls due to the lack of local ambulance availability.
Alberta Health Services has acknowledged the “unprecedented increase in emergency calls due to several combined factors” across the province.
Around 2012, McKeown said Coaldale fire crews were responding to about nine code red calls per year.
“Fast forward to 2022, and at the end of quarter two of this year, we’ve already done 39 code red events. So a huge increase,” he explained, adding their department is mostly made up of volunteers.
“There’s added stress going to those calls when you don’t know where an ambulance is coming from or how long you’re going to be on scene with that patient waiting for an ambulance to come.”
In addition, a “core-flex” scheduling system means ambulances can only operate for so long before being shut down.
“Because they’re getting so busy, they’re timing out more often and when they time out they shut that ambulance down,” McKeown said. “(Then) that ambulance is no longer in service for at least eight hours.”
On June 28, 2022, Van Rijn wrote a letter to Alberta Health Services outlining the decline in service levels and increase in response times.
Global News requested an interview with AHS on the matter but was declined.
“Targets for Coaldale are a median of 10 minutes for life-threatening events and 15 minutes for 90th percentile,” a statement from the health service provider read.
“In terms of a response to the letter, EMS has met with the Town of Coaldale to listen to their concerns and discuss the pressures that are currently being faced by EMS across the province. Out of respect to these ongoing discussions, EMS leadership will continue speaking directly with Coaldale town officials and won’t be commenting further at this time.”
Van Rijn said he had heard back from AHS’ senior provincial director and chief paramedic in the first week of July and is planning a meeting to discuss the issue further.
The town is also looking into adding a third ambulance to better serve the community and surrounding area.