Alberta mayors, including Mayor Tara Veer, are calling for an immediate inquiry into an hour-long technical outage that impacted ambulance dispatch last week, as well as a third-party external review of dispatch consolidation after multiple errors and delays.
“We are resolute on this issue. It is unacceptable that there was an outage for just over an hour on a Tuesday night and there was no notification of emergency operations back to municipalities,” Veer said during a press conference on Monday afternoon with Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi, Lethbridge Mayor Chris Spearman, and Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo Mayor Don Scott.
“AHS did not notify our emergency dispatchers at the time of the outage, nor has AHS provided any updates for clarification on the outage,” Veer said.
As of Jan. 12, ambulance dispatch services for Red Deer, Lethbridge, Calgary and the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo EMS were consolidated at three AHS communications centres in Peace River, Edmonton and Calgary.
The mayors want dispatch consolidation paused, saying it was clear AHS cannot meet the emergency dispatch demands.
Veer said due to patient confidentiality, specifics on ambulance calls could not be provided, but in one case Red Deer saw a three-minute response delay when a request went to the wrong fire dispatch centre in Calgary and needed to be sent to the correct fire dispatch centre in Red Deer.
Scott said local EMS staff had to intervene in 20 per cent of medical calls in the first two weeks of consolidation. On Friday, AHS dispatched a Fort McMurray ambulance to a seriously injured snowmobiler, meanwhile a rural volunteer fire department was only minutes away from the scene. When another ambulance was needed to assist, a second ambulance was sent out from Fort McMurray.
“This is the second call where a rural volunteer fire department wasn’t called when a patient nearby needed help because of the consolidation of the EMS dispatch,” Scott said.
Nenshi said the minister of health and the chief paramedic promised that citizens would not see any difference under consolidation.
“Waiting for 16 minutes for an ambulance when there is a fire station literally around the corner where people can help you, guess what, that’s a difference,” Nenshi said.
“This is outrageous.”
Spearman said over the last few weeks, the municipalities’ worst fears around consolidation have come true.
He said in Lethbridge there have been several delays, communications mix ups, safety issues, and serious health incidents.
“We understand there will be technical failures, but the lack of communication back to municipalities when this occurs is putting the health and safety of residents across Alberta at risk,” Spearman said.
The four mayors have sent a letter to Premier Jason Kenney, Health Minister Tyler Shandro and government caucus outlining their concerns.