Health Minister Tyler Shandro quietly informed municipal leaders Friday it will ignore their objections and proceed with taking local control of ambulance dispatch away from Red Deer, Fort McMurray, Lethbridge and Calgary.
“We are strongly opposed to this Friday afternoon announcement … conveniently delivered just as the first major winter storm blows into Alberta,” said Mayor Tara Veer in a joint statement with her municipal colleagues.
“His letter contains many inaccuracies, and we will address these, together, early next week.”
The plan was called “foolish,” “short-sighted” and “crazy” by emotional Red Deer city councillors on Tuesday.
They had urged citizens to help reverse what has been called a cost-saving decision by the government.
“The clock is ticking, citizens! This is your time,” said Coun. Dianne Wyntjes.
Alberta Health Services has repeatedly proposed the centralized dispatching system since 2009, but the idea was shot down four times by health ministers.
Once ministers of the day learned the facts and heard municipal concerns, they realized it doesn’t make any sense, said Veer.
She disputes the AHS proposal will even be cost saving, since municipalities now don’t fully charge for the help fire crews provide on health emergencies.
A report compiled by intergovernmental strategist Steven Ellingson shows that emergency vehicles will take longer to show up at health or accident scenes under the new system than what is happening in Red Deer currently.
Veer noted it would take two calls to deploy a fire truck with advanced life-saving equipment when ambulances are tied up, and it would take too long for it to arrive.
Ellingson’s report, which was supported by Red Deer’s EMS Chief Ken McMullen, stated that it takes an average of 67 seconds for Red Deer dispatchers to send a first ambulance to an emergency.
This is less than the 85 to 91 seconds, on average, it takes in the centralized AHS communications centres.
“Jason Kenney and Tyler Shandro have refused to look at the evidence, and refused to listen to four mayors and fire chiefs from across Alberta,” said David Shepherd, the NDP’s health critic, on Friday.
“There’s a real chance these changes will make service levels worse in these communities.
“Jason Kenney is rolling the dice with Albertans’ lives to pay for his $4.7-billion corporate handout,” he said in a reference to cuts in corporate taxes.