Red Deer is on the brink of losing local ambulance dispatching and the premier’s office has still not responded to Mayor Tara Veer’s offer to pay to keep the service.
It’s an ominous silence, considering the change is slated to happen Tuesday, Jan. 12.
“Sometimes no response is a response,” said Mayor Veer on Wednesday.
She remains gravely concerned that Alberta Health Services is slated to “literally flip the switch” next week and start to divert all ambulance-related 911-calls from the Red Deer area to Calgary dispatchers.
But Veer is still hoping — especially in light of comments from the ministers of Municipal Affairs and Health that they are committed to rebuilding the trust of Albertans — that Premier Jason Kenny will accept her offer.
“Keeping ambulance dispatch local would be a step in the right direction,” she said.
Veer and other mayors of other Alberta municipalities, including Lethbridge and the Municipal District of Wood Buffalo, have spent the last half of 2020 lobbying the provincial government to keep ambulance dispatch local.
In her letter to Kenney, Veer asked him to intervene in what has become a stalemate between the municipalities and Alberta Health Minister Tyler Shandro.
Shandro “will not overturn AHS (Alberta Health Service’s decision) nor accept our offer to pay for the ambulance dispatch contract, and I am respectfully asking you to consider our proposal to pay for local ambulance dispatch through municipal funds (with no property tax increase) in the public safety interests of our community and province,” Veer wrote to Premier Kenney.
She restated municipal fears that the new ambulance dispatch model will be “substandard” service to Red Deer-area residents than the current integrated system that deploys fire-medics from one dispatch space.
Since Red Deer’s 911-dispatchers respond to both fire and ambulance calls, they are able to send fire trucks crewed by paramedics to emergency scenes when they know ambulances are tied up on other calls.
Under the province’s new model, it would take an extra phone call — and more time — if dispatchers in Calgary decide to call Red Deer fire dispatchers to see if a firetruck is available.
“If could result in confusion and potential loss of critical information as callers are required to repeat their details,” wrote Veer.
She reminded the premier in her letter about his party’s past support for overturning AHS’s 2016 decision to take away local integrated ambulance dispatch, and his 2019 election promise to positively partner with municipalities.
The City of Red Deer is prepared to pony up $1.2 million a year needed to keep local ambulance dispatch. Veer said it would amount to saving about 10 local dispatching jobs.
As of Wednesday afternoon, the Advocate did not receive a response from the premier’s office about Kenney’s position on the letter.
On Wednesday, Veer urged Red Deerians to send their own concerns to the premier.
“One only has to look at the tragic example from British Columbia where a woman died because the ambulance was delayed and firefighters were not immediately sent to the emergency, and Ontario, which is now realizing the negative outcomes of their centralized model,” said Veer in her statement on the city’s website.
Veer added that an external review recommended that B.C. return to integrated ambulance and fire dispatch.
“Premier, there is still time to do the right thing.”
Veer tweeted a public reminder to Kenney: “Our offer stands Mr. Premier. Local ambulance dispatch saves lives.”
Veer’s full statement is available at reddeer.ca.