Alberta health officials say ambulance wait times remain too long but progress is being made.
Ponoka Mayor Kevin Ferguson called on the government to do more recently after voicing grave concerns about a pair of recent incidents left volunteer firefighters coping with seriously injured people facing lengthy waits for EMS help.
In a Nov. 21 incident, firefighters attending to a pedestrian hit by a vehicle gave up waiting for an ambulance and took their patient to hospital in the back of a pickup.
Alberta Health Services spokesperson Kerry Williamson acknowledged ambulance response times in some recent cases have been longer than target times, but said the situation is getting better and more improvements are coming.
For Ponoka, the target is for an ambulance to respond to life-threatening incidents within 10 minutes half of the time and within 15 minutes 90 per cent of the time.
The data shows that response times are close to hitting the mark. From January to October 2022, half of calls were responded to in an average of 9:43 minutes, below the 10-minute target. However, the target of responding to 90 per cent of calls within 15 minutes has not been reached with an average response time of 20:17 minutes.
AHS is continuing to work with other levels of government to make improvements, including implementing a 10-Point Plan. The plan calls for developing a strategic provincial service plan for EMS delivery in Alberta, hiring more paramedics, launching pilot projects to manage non-emergency inter-facility transfers and transferring low-priority calls to other agencies in consultation with EMS physicians, among other improvements
Improving EMS response times is one of the three priorities for the new AHS Official Administrator. Meanwhile, the EMS budget was boosted by 12 per cent — $64 million — to put 19 more ambulances on the road in Edmonton and Calgary and to help pay for other initiatives, including those outlined in Alberta Health Services 10-point EMS plan.
Williamson said EMS continues to see an “unprecedented” 30 per cent increase in emergency calls over the last several months, which along with staff illness and fatigue has strained the system.
Steve Buick, press secretary for Health Minister Jason Copping, said ambulance response times remain too long and reducing them is a high priority.
There have already been signs of progress, such as a reduction in the number of times ambulances are pulled into Edmonton and Calgary from neighbouring communities, said Buick.
“In Central Zone, response times are down somewhat from the peak levels of the past year in Red Deer and some other communities, although not all,” he said.
Red Deer, Ponoka and some other communities are close to the target of at least half of calls responded to within eight minutes and within 10 minutes in smaller centres.
“But response times overall are still too long, and some are much too long. The system is still under strain from 2 1/2 years of the pandemic, and we need to do more.”