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Immigration can’t solve all EMS problems, says Red Deer IAFF president

New provincial report moves discussion in the right direction
Stephen Belich, president of International Association of Firefighters Local 1190 Red Deer, is encouraged by recommendations in the Alberta Emergency Medical Services Provincial Advisory Committee report. (Photo by Advocate Staff)

A Red Deer fire medic says the issues facing emergency services has scared off potential EMS workers, and that’s a dilemma that immigration can’t fix.

On Monday the province announced that one of the ways it is working to relieve pressure on the emergency services system is by looking at hiring paramedics from Australia, where there are more paramedics than jobs.

“Does it fix the long-term problems? I don’t think so. We still need to have people interested in the industry. Getting people interested in the industry is by fixing these problems,” said Stephen Belich, president of the International Association of Firefighters Local 1190 Red Deer.

In addition to releasing the Alberta Emergency Medical Services Provincial Advisory Committee report with recommendations to improve the system, the province says it will also focus on recruitment, training, and retaining workers.

On Monday Health Minister Jason Copping said an additional 341 paramedics were hired in 2022 so there’s been some success and Alberta will continue to address the shortage of healthcare professionals.


Red Deer EMS could get increase of 14 staffers in 2023-24

Belich said it’s unclear if Australian paramedics would require training to work in Alberta, or how long it could take for them to move here.

But he does have hope that there are better days ahead thanks to recommendations in the report, the continued partnership between municipalities and the provincial government, and efforts to keep conversations going and minds open.

“We’re definitely moving in the right direction. People are starting to come up with some solutions.”

He said a recommendation to implement a provincial emergency department offload target for ambulance patients of 45 minutes across the province is huge, he said.

“If you can get in, and get those resources back out on the road where they need to be, that’s a big deal.”

And he is in favour of the pilot project recommendation to empower paramedics to assess a patient’s condition on scene and decide whether they need to be taken to emergency by ambulance.

“I think that’s definitely a good start making sure the resources that are there are used the way they are intended to be used.”

Now it’s a matter of seeing how fast these ideas will be put into action, he added.


Report supports centralized EMS dispatch in Alberta

Belich said late last year Alberta Health Services put another ambulance on the road in Red Deer during peak times which has helped out a lot with the call volume. City council’s approval to hire six additional fire medics is also appreciated.

“We have been struggling here for the last year. It will go a long way to helping with burnout, with sickness, general vacations, training.”

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