The switch has been flipped and 911 ambulance calls from Red Deer and the rest of central Alberta are now being handled by Calgary dispatchers.
Alberta Health Minister Tyler Shandro disputes the concerns that have repeatedly been expressed by four Alberta mayors, including Red Deer’s Tara Veer, that consolidating ambulance dispatch to fewer centres, and separating this service from local fire dispatchers, will hurt response times and cause unnecessary deaths.
Steve Buick, a spokesperson for Alberta Health, said Minister Shandro met with the four mayors in September and followed up their concerns with an Oct. 16 open letter that provided rationale for the transition.
Shandro states that 60 per cent of the province has been using the AHS ambulance dispatch system since 2009.
The position of the mayors of Red Deer, Calgary, Lethbridge and the Municipal District of Wood Buffalo is that their fire-medics are cross-trained to handle any kind of emergency, so having close contact between fire and ambulance dispatchers makes the most sense.
But Shandro disputed that separating the two kinds of dispatching would slow response times.
The minister wrote in his letter that integrating ambulance dispatch into the health care system makes the most sense as it is a system used in the U.K., Australia, New Zealand, and most other Canadian provinces.
“It is the best practice and the standard practice in Alberta and most other provinces and in other countries whose health systems are most like ours,” wrote Shandro.
Buick added, “We respect the mayors’ concerns,” but Alberta Health continues to believe that integrating dispatch into the health system in the remaining four municipalities “will serve patients better.”
Buick said it will align the four cities with best practices in the rest of the province.
Kerry Williamson, executive director of issues management at Alberta Health, said on Tuesday that every dollar saved on the current dispatch contracts will be reinvested into improving ground ambulance services.
“Paramedic and public safety are at the forefront of the work we do every day. If police are needed on an EMS call, AHS EMS Emergency Communications Officers notify police directly and immediately.”
A paramedic or 911 caller can request police assistance at any time during an event, Williamson added. “Additionally, AHS …has a Law Enforcement Response Plan that determines what call types require automatic notification of law enforcement.”