Number of ambulances to drop in Red Deer

The number of Red Deer ambulances will be reduced over the summer if city council agrees to the changes.

The number of Red Deer ambulances will be reduced over the summer if city council agrees to the changes.

Council will decide on Tuesday whether to accept Red Deer Emergency Services’ proposal to reduce the number of ambulances to five from nine, under the city’s contract with Alberta Health Services.

Emergency Services manager Jack MacDonald said on Thursday he is confident a smooth transition can take place so that residents won’t notice a difference when they call for an ambulance.

As is done right now, if it’s believed all nine Red Deer ambulances will be busy at one point, then the city can call on ambulances from places like Innisfail, Sylvan Lake and Lacombe.

Those communities can do the same, MacDonald added.

MacDonald said jobs wouldn’t be affected by the ambulance reduction.

“We’ve talked to our staff already and we’ve reassured the 30 people that were hired last year,” he said.

Those people were hired to fulfil the contract with Alberta Health Services, which requires five ambulances and not nine.

Red Deer Emergency Services has 152 staff when fully staffed, 50 of whom are dedicated to the ambulance. The remaining are fire rescue.

In the first phase, Emergency Services would keep using ambulances, Units 6 through 9, while working with staff, Alberta Health Services and others on creating procedures and measurement criteria.

During the second phase from June to July 31, the number of ambulances would drop to seven.

Based on 2009 data, seven ambulances cover more than 99 per cent of demand. The third phase, starting in August, would see the ambulance units drop to five.

Last year, five ambulances covered 97 per cent of demand while the remaining three per cent was covered by other AHS resources.

“With the few percentage of calls that involve our ambulances, Units 6 through 9, we are looking at phasing those out,” said MacDonald.

“Instead, we’d be replacing those units from the region, who would flex into Red Deer prior to a call.”

The province took over governing and paying for ambulance services on April 1, 2009. The city then entered into a two-year contract with AHS, which then required Red Deer to man five ambulances.

The city elected to pay for the four other ambulances, in the hopes that the province would eventually fund them.

“We started having nine ambulances last year, but it’s very rare that we use that ninth ambulance,” MacDonald said.

When Red Deer went to five stations, the city wanted to have additional ambulances in the stations and that’s why there were nine, MacDonald said.

If there were back-to-back calls in those areas, then a second ambulance could be dispatched out.

Under the AHS model, it only calls for one ambulance per station.

Red Deer’s ambulance dispatch service will be transferred to Calgary on Sept. 30.

“Before that happens, we want to look at a gradual, slow, phased transition to those five ambulances and test out the (regional) model that AHS wants to see,” said MacDonald.