Too long ambulance waits at the Red Deer hospital, too light jail sentences for repeat offenders, and a provincial grab of more traffic fine revenues were all discussed at Friday’s city budget deliberations.
Red Deer Fire Chief Ken McMullen said ambulance workers are still waiting up to five or six hours at the Red Deer hospital emergency department because beds can’t readily be found to admit patients.
“It’s enormous … our average wait is three hours,” added McMullen, who explained patients can’t just be dropped off at emergency. Ambulance workers must stay with them until their care can be transferred to a doctor or nurse.
Multiple patient transfers often have to occur to free up a bed in the emergency room.
“Somebody has to be transferred from the first floor to the third floor, so somebody else can be transferred to the first floor,” freeing up an emergency room bed, said McMullen.
While this shuffle is going on, the waiting paramedics are unavailable for other emergencies that arise.
Protective services director Paul Goranson told council the “backing up” of ambulances at Red Deer hospital due to a lack of available beds is increasing the amount of overtime paid to paramedics.
“More ambulances is not the solution,” added Goranson, who indicated more hospital capacity is what’s needed.
Mayor Tara Veer said council is continuing to meet with provincial ministers to lobby the province for a hospital expansion. And this isn’t the only lobbying going on.
Members of council have also spoken to the justice minister about the need for better ways of dealing with repeat offenders.
Coun. Dianne Wyntjes said she shares the same frustration as many community members about light jail sentences for criminals who keep re-offending. She mentioned the Walmart shooting suspects were known to police.
“Police are doing their job, but (repeat offenders) are put back on the street,” said Wyntjes.
“How can we push back with stronger sentencing and longer incarceration?”
Veer said part of council’s lobbying effort is asking for more Crown prosecutors to handle a backlog of court cases.
Red Deer RCMP Insp. Gerald Grobmeier believes extra resources for the justice system would help, as would having more supports for offenders once they are returned to the community.
If high incarceration levels were the only answer to reducing crime, then the U.S. would have one of the best crime rates in the world — and that isn‘t the case, he noted.
Concerns were also raised by council about more traffic fines revenues being seized by the province.
This year, 40 per cent of municipal fine revenues goes the provincial government, compared with 27 per cent previously. Mayor Veer feels this increase is “incongruous” with the provincial review underway to determine whether revenues from red light cameras and photo radar are a cash cow.
She noted fine revenue in Red Deer helps fund local police services.