Red Deer’s emergency services manager Ken McMullen believes having some additional ambulances dedicated to inter-hospital transfers would free up more city paramedics to handle emergency situations.(Advocate file photo.)

More ambulances are needed in Red Deer to handle inter-hospital patient transfers, says mayor

‘Code reds’ — meaning all city ambulances are in use — happen monthly

Red Deer needs more ambulances, and the city is urging the province to establish a non-emergency service to help with inter-hospital patient transfers.

Emergency services director Ken McMullen said “code reds” are a monthly occurrence. This means all five city ambulances are out on calls and regional ambulance services have to be on standby to respond to any new emergencies that arise in Red Deer.

Mayor Tara Veer said she and other council members have spoken to the health minister and the associate minister of red tape reduction about the need for additional ambulances for Red Deer. These would deal only with patient transfers between hospitals, and not with emergency situations.

“We have recommended the establishment of a non-ambulance service to complete transfers,” said the mayor, who noted Leduc and Lethbridge have also identified problems with their ambulances getting tied up with non-emergency trips.

The City of Red Deer used to have nine ambulances when it was under the David Thompson Health Region.

It has had only five since Alberta Health Services took over health administration for the province in 2008. But the city can now also call for assistance from neighbouring regional ambulance services in Sylvan Lake and Lacombe, said McMullen.

One of the main problems is the bottleneck that happens at the Red Deer hospital emergency department.

Paramedics must wait with patients, often for hours, until they are admitted into a bed.

Usually, hospital patients have to be shuffled around to free up a hospital bed. On seven occasions since last June, Red Deer hospital has had to go to a Level 3 protocol, which means transferring some patients to rural hospitals in the region.

McMullen believes having additional non-emergency ambulances that are designated for transferring patients between facilities would help ease this situation.

He told council this week that it’s possible in some situations, for one paramedic, who is already waiting at the hospital’s emergency room with a patient, to oversee a second patient.

This would free up the second ambulance from also waiting at the hospital.

While it’s theoretically possible for one paramedic to look after three patients in the emergency department, he said the decision is discretionary and depends on the care needs of the patients.

McMullen added paramedics usually find caring for two patients more manageable.

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