Alberta’s two largest cities got a handful of new ambulances this week.
Alberta Health Services announced the successful hiring and addition of 10 new ambulances in Calgary and Edmonton, in addition to nine more that went into service in June 2022.
Forty new primary care paramedics have also been hired to staff the new ambulances.
The provincial health authority hopes this will address the 30 per cent increase in EMS call volume when compared to pre-pandemic levels.
“We are delivering on the commitment to fund new ambulances for service as quickly as possible. These new ambulances will help create additional capacity in the system, which is much needed,” says Minister of Health Jason Copping said in a statement, alluding to the AHS EMS 10-point plan to address stresses on the EMS system.
The ambulances required nearly year-long lead times for the complete manufacture and outfitting of each one.
“Our teams have been planning ahead and working closely with our suppliers over the last year to expedite the arrival of these vehicles so that we can continue providing the best care to Albertans,” chief paramedic Darren Sandbeck said in a statement.
Mike Parker, the president of the Health Sciences Association of Alberta, a union that represents 29,000 health-care workers in Alberta, described the announcement as a small step in the right direction.
“Ambulances are a good start, but they don’t care for the sick and injured — people do,” he said in a news release. “We started this week in Alberta with more than 500 paramedic shifts unstaffed. We need people.”
Data from HSAA showed on Tuesday, the Calgary metro area had 24 fewer ambulances on the road than were scheduled because of being short-staffed.
Parker also expressed skepticism that Alberta has hired enough paramedics to staff the new ambulances.
“We know that in some cases paramedics are simply being redeployed to staff new equipment, leaving their previous assignment unfilled,” he said.
“New equipment is always necessary, but it’s people who answer the emergency calls and respond, not phones and ambulances.”
Opposition health critic David Shepherd issued a statement in response to the announcement in which he blamed the current provincial government’s general handling of health care for the increased wait times for ambulances in Alberta.
“(The government has) completely neglected paramedics, leaving them to face tremendous increased pressure on health care without added support,” he said.
“The current situation is not sustainable and, as a result, more paramedics are leaving the profession altogether. This leads to staff shortages that mean ambulances stay parked instead of responding to Albertans’ emergencies.”
Shepherd said he believes more needs to be done to prevent burnout among paramedics, suggesting that “those with part-time work should be offered full-time positions with benefits.”
“And the UCP has to do more to address the drug-poisoning crisis, including making harm-reduction services more accessible, to ease the burden on ambulance calls.”
–With files from Phil Heidenreich, Global News