Photo by LANA MICHELIN/Advocate staff Lacombe City Councillor Chris Ross has concerns about a shortage of ambulances in the region.

Health Minister asked to resolve Central Alberta’s ambulance shortage

Lacombe ambulances spend more than half their time responding to calls in Red Deer, says councillor

Some Lacombe residents are waiting 18 minutes for an ambulance to arrive from Ponoka because Lacombe ambulances spend most of their time responding to Red Deer emergencies, complained a Lacombe councillor.

Coun. Chris Ross asked Alberta Health Minister Sarah Hoffman on Thursday to help resolve an ambulance system that’s become dysfunctional.

Lacombe patients should expect an ambulance to arrive within 10 minutes, said Ross, yet “we’re in the 90th percentile for patient waiting times because 60-plus per cent of our calls are to Red Deer.”

That’s because Red Deer has a shortage of EMS service, Ross explained at a question-and-answer session with the minister at the AUMA conference in Red Deer. He traced the problem back to when Alberta Health Services was formed to replace health regions in Alberta in 2009.

AHS reduced ambulance funding, so the City of Red Deer can only run five ambulances instead of a previous nine, said Ross. As well AHS ended funding for three regional ambulance services that used to operate within the former David Thompson Health Region, he added.

With population growing in the region, many Central Alberta ambulances are having to respond to calls outside their own communities.

He was told that Red Deer ambulances are often busy driving heart attack patients all the way to Edmonton and Calgary for cardiac catheterization because the procedure is not available in Central Alberta.

He described a domino effect resulting, with Lacombe ambulances then responding to other Red Deer emergencies, and Ponoka, Stettler or Rimbey ambulances responding to Lacombe calls.

Ross questions the seemingly “arbitrary” nature of ambulance funding. Why does Lacombe, a city of 13,000 people, have only two ambulances — the same number as Rimbey, with a population of 2,500? Meanwhile, Ponoka, with 7,000 people, has three ambulances?

Hoffman sent her assistant to gather more information about Ross’s concerns and promised a future discussion about them.

In the meantime, Ross plans to make a presentation about ambulance inequity on Monday at 5 p.m. to Lacombe city council.

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