City council is offering to pay out of municipal coffers to keep ambulance dispatchers in Red Deer.
Mayor Tara Veer believes it will be worth the expense to be able to save some lives in the community.
The City of Red Deer now receives $1.2 million annually from Alberta Health Services (AHS) to operate local ambulance dispatch through Red Deer Emergency Services’ 911 Emergency Communications Centre.
This provincial money will be lost when ambulance dispatch is consolidated in Calgary as of Jan. 12 by AHS.
But Mayor Tara Veer recently made Premier Jason Kenney this offer: The city will pay for ambulance dispatch out of municipal taxpayer funds if it means being able to preserve the local integrated model of fire/ambulance dispatch.
She’s very concerned citizen’s lives will unnecessarily be lost if the city’s ambulance service starts to be handled out of Calgary.
Several councillors noted that local fire-medics arrive first 40 per cent of the time to health calls when ambulances are tied up in other communities.
“It’s a matter of life or death,” said Veer, to keep all EMS dispatching local, instead of what’s being proposed by Alberta Health Services and Alberta Health Minister Tyler Shandro.
Under their new system, only fire calls would continue to be dispatched from Red Deer.
City council believes precious minutes will be lost without close contact between local ambulance and fire dispatchers (who now work out of the same building).
City Council has repeatedly asked the Government of Alberta to provide evidence that AHS dispatch is better for patient outcomes and have not received a response, said Veer.
Last week council sent a formal request to Premier Kenney to reverse the AHS decision. Council has not yet received an answer.
But on Monday, City Council approved one-time funding of $722,800 for 2022 in order to maintain local dispatch services — as well as $477,200 for 2021 and 2022 to cover the incremental cost of funding emergency ambulance dispatch if the province accepts Council’s offer.
Many councillors expressed anger at a government that consider to be unresponsive to municipal concerns. “Never have I been so disappointed by a decision made by a provincial counterpart,” said Coun. Vesna Higham.
Coun. Ken Johnston credited the mayor for being undeterred in her long battle to try keep ambulance dispatch local to protect the well-being of Red Deerians.
The City of Red Deer’s integrated Fire and Emergency Ambulance Service, was a model for other communities across Canada.
Local emergency responders are trained to respond to medical crisis, regardless if the call was made for fire or ambulance, said Ken McMullen, Deputy General Manager of Development and Protective Services
“We are extremely concerned that, under AHS dispatch there will not only be an impact to patient care in medical emergencies, but our first responders will see increased risk as fire and ambulance dispatchers will no longer be in the same room, communicating safety and patient information in real time,” McMullen explained.