Alberta Health Minister Jason Copping says the province’s EMS system is seeing significant strain as cases of the Omicron variant of COVID-19 peaks. (File photo by Government of Alberta)

Alberta Health Minister Jason Copping says the province’s EMS system is seeing significant strain as cases of the Omicron variant of COVID-19 peaks. (File photo by Government of Alberta)

Alberta launching emergency medical services advisory committee

As demand for EMS services across Alberta continues to grow, the provincial government is launching a provincial emergency medical services advisory committee.

The committee aims to provide immediate and long-term recommendations that will inform a new provincial EMS service plan.

The committee, co-chaired by Highwood MLA R.J. Sigurdon and Grande Prairie MLA Tracy Allard, will include contracted ambulance operators, unions representing paramedics, municipal representatives and Indigenous community representatives. Recommendations will be provided to Minister of Health Jason Copping by May.

Members will collaborate, identify concerns, provide advice and inform a new provincial EMS service plan, the provincial government said Monday.

“Alberta’s government has been supportive of EMS throughout the pandemic,” said Copping.

“As we approach the peak of Omicron cases, we know the EMS system is seeing significant strain, which impacts service. We recognize this is a challenge and are taking immediate steps to improve emergency care access while we explore longer-term solutions.”

Ken McMullen, City of Red Deer chief of emergency services, said bringing a local perspective to the provincial table will help Red Deer and central Alberta continue to shape the delivery of emergency services.

“Our goal is to ensure all Red Deerians and Albertans are protected in an emergency,” McMullen said.

“We appreciate the opportunity to work directly with our municipal and provincial counterparts to determine where change is needed, and make a plan for Alberta-wide outcomes.”

Meanwhile, Alberta Health Services is immediately rolling out a 10-point plan to quickly add capacity to EMS.

Five actions are already underway:

  • Hiring more paramedics.
  • Launching pilot projects to manage non-emergency inter-facility transfers.
  • Initiating an ‘hours of work’ project to help ease staff fatigue.
  • Transferring low priority calls to other agencies in consultation with EMS physicians.
  • Stopping the automatic dispatch of ambulances to motor vehicle collisions that don’t have injuries.

Five additional actions are to come, including the implementation of a pilot project in Red Deer that will manage most patient transfers between facilities with dedicated transfer units, freeing up ambulances to handle emergency calls.

Additionally, the province will issue a request for proposals to conduct a third-party review of Alberta’s province-wide EMS dispatch system in February.

Red Deer Mayor Ken Johnston said he and council are pleased this review was announced.

“The City of Red Deer has been calling, with support of many in our province, for a third-party external review of the EMS dispatch system to be conducted that would provide recommendations to improve Alberta’s emergency services. And today, that call was answered,” Johnston said in a statement.

“City council and I are thankful to hear that the Minister of Health is committed to making our emergency system more sustainable for the future, through this, and other tactics mentioned today.”

Dr. Verna Yiu, Alberta Health Services president and CEO, said “a strong, stable and reliable” EMS system is vital to the health-care system.

“These actions will allow us to better support our EMS staff and front-line paramedics, and in turn this will ensure our patients receive the best care possible,” said Yiu.

Mike Parker, Health Sciences Association of Alberta president, said “it is long past time” an Alberta government got to work on solving the province’s EMS crisis.

“Our advocacy to expose the state of EMS by reporting red alerts has made the need for action clear,” said Parker.

“HSAA has been asked to come to the table to come up with solutions. As the experts in the delivery of emergency medical services we are more than willing to get to work.”

HSAA will not be recommending or supportive of any privatization efforts, Parker added.

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