Red Deer Mayor Tara Veer said the fight to maintain high-quality emergency service in the region will continue. (File photo by Advocate staff).

Red Deer Mayor Tara Veer said the fight to maintain high-quality emergency service in the region will continue. (File photo by Advocate staff).

Mayor says dispatching change will highlight Red Deer’s ambulance shortage

The municipal lobby for timely emergency service continues on other fronts

Red Deer Mayor Tara Veer’s fight to maintain timely emergency service response in central Alberta will continue on other fronts after the loss of local ambulance dispatching on Tuesday.

She expects one of the biggest issues to arise will be the ambulance shortage in Red Deer.

“Eighty-five to 90 per cent of calls to 911 are ambulance-related,” she explained — yet Red Deer’s ambulance fleet was reduced to five vehicles from a previous nine ambulances with life support in 2009.

Although the regional population has grown over the past 12 years, Veer believes the reduction wasn’t fully felt because local fire-medics have regularly stepped in to handle health-related calls whenever city ambulances are tied up with patients at the hospital, or out of the city on inter-facility transfers.

Veer explained that up until Tuesday, ambulance and fire dispatching were done out of one space in Red Deer so it was easy to share information and alert the cross-trained fire-medics to respond to medical emergencies when ambulances were busy.

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But now that local ambulance dispatching is being handled by a separate centre in Calgary, Veer believes it unlikely that local fire-medics will always be alerted or sent to health-related calls when long ambulance waits are expected.

Veer and the Mayors of Calgary, Lethbridge and the Municipal District of Wood Buffalo, are going to be “flagging issues” that arise from the change in dispatch service. As of Tuesday, Alberta Health Services began routing all local 911 ambulance calls from this area to a centralized Calgary dispatching system.

Besides discussing an ambulance shortage with Alberta Health Minister Tyler Shandro, Veer also plans to ask him for some “mitigating” measures during the transition period.

Veer wants the six (out of 10) remaining dispatchers in Red Deer to be allowed to listen in on phone lines while 911 health calls are being answered in Calgary to ensure that local fire-medics are alerted whenever a long wait for ambulances is anticipated.

She noted it’s important to keep a high standard in emergency response since many central Alberta municipalities will be affected by this change.

Letters against the change to dispatching were sent to the Health Minister from the City of Lacombe, and the Towns of Penhold, Sylvan Lake, Blackfalds, Eckville, Stettler, Delburne, Caroline, Alix, Clive. Also Lacombe County, Starland County and the Summer Villages of Jarvis Bay, Birchcliff, and Norglenwold, lent their support behind the now unsuccessful lobbying effort.

Veer remains concerned about what will happen if an electronic glitch occurs during a busy period for emergencies? With only three centralized ambulance dispatch centres handling ambulance calls for Alberta’s 4.4 million people, a flood of calls would potentially have to be channelled to one or two centres.

And she questions Alberta Health’s end game in making the change in dispatching, over the objections of so many municipal leaders? Will ambulance service ultimately be taken out of municipal control, she wonders.



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