(Advocate file photo.)

Central Alberta municipalities to join forces, demanding more health care resources

Shortage of ambulance, hospital services effects the entire region, says Red Deer councillor

Focusing attention on central Alberta’s health-care woes will require joint meetings between municipalities in 2019.

Since Red Deer hospital shortages and ambulance inadequacies are regional-wide issues, it will take inter-municipal collaboration to bring the full scope of the problem to the province’s attention, says Red Deer Coun. Dianne Wyntjes.

Wyntjes was recently contacted by Lacombe Coun. Chris Ross about his concern that Lacombe ambulances were spending 60 per cent of their time responding to Red Deer emergencies, or transferring heart-attack patients from Red Deer hospital to catheterization laboratories in Edmonton and Calgary.

Between August 2017 and August 2018, Lacombe ambulances responded to 880 calls in Red Deer, said Ross.

He feels Lacombe residents are being short changed: They should expect to wait 10 minutes for an ambulance to arrive, but are instead waiting an average of 18 minutes. This is because often, ambulances from Ponoka, Stettler or Rimbey are regularly needed to respond to Lacombe city calls because local ambulances are busy responding in Red Deer.

Ross brought the “dysfunctional” situation to the attention of Lacombe city council last fall. But council wasn’t sure how to respond, since the problem centres around Red Deer, which is out of its jurisdiction.

Ross later emailed Wyntjes, hoping she would bring the problem before Red Deer city council.

Wyntjes believes a more effective solution is sitting down with other affected municipalities to discuss local hospital shortages and inadequate ambulance service.

An inter-municipal collaborative framework process was recently introduced into the Municipal Government Act as a way to resolve problems that involve more than one jurisdiction.

Health-care inadequacies “are a huge issue for central Alberta,” she said, so information sharing will be needed to compile evidence to send to Alberta Health.

To get the full scope of regional ambulance shortages, for example, data will also be needed from Innisfail, Sylvan Lake, Stettler and Ponoka ambulance providers, as well as Lacombe.

“We need to look at all of their urgent care needs together,” said Wyntjes — including the lack of hospital services and beds, the absence of a local drug treatment centre and the need for more mental health resources.

There are some signs of positive change. Red Deer hospital has been put back on the provincial government’s capital priority list. Wyntjes is pleased to see it get back on, after being pushed off the list in recent years.

But she noted there’s still no dollar amount tied to this project. Wyntjes hopes more will be known at budget time in the spring.

Sylvan Lake ambulance service was given some extra funding for EMS staff and coverage earlier this month. While this may indirectly help ease some of the crunch in Red Deer and Lacombe, Wyntjes said the two cities could also have used more ambulance funding.


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