Red Deer Mayor Tara Veer has joined three other Alberta city leaders in slamming the province’s decision to consolidate municipally run 911 emergency dispatch services.
EMS dispatch centres in Red Deer, Calgary, Lethbridge and the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo will be closed within six months. All EMS calls will then be routed through Alberta Health Services dispatch centres in Edmonton, Calgary and Peace River.
Other municipally operated EMS dispatch centres have already been absorbed into the provincial system.
Veer said the mayors were “highly frustrated” to find out Tuesday the consolidation plan was going forward, despite repeated assurances that communities would be consulted prior to a decision being made.
“Obviously, yesterday’s news was not well received by our municipalities,” said Veer on Wednesday in an online virtual news conference with mayors from the other communities affected.
Veer said that Red Deer’s 911 response times are considerably better than the standards the province has set for its consolidated model.
Up to 10 local dispatch jobs could be lost, but Veer said the city is focused on the negative impact of changing the current integrated dispatch system.
Fire and police dispatch will continue to be handled locally.
“Integrated dispatch is essential to save lives and having timely emergency response,” said Veer.
Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi was even more blunt.
“People will die and no money will be saved,” said Nenshi.
Consolidated dispatch was a bad idea when first raised in 2009, and again in 2011, 2013 and 2016, said Nenshi.
“And nothing has changed. It’s still a bad idea,” he said.
AHS says the change will save $6 million a year and allow better co-ordination of ambulances. Callers will not notice any difference, says the province.
“By bringing all EMS services together, we are better able to maintain consistency and ensure sustainability of EMS dispatch services across all communities,” said Darren Sandbeck, chief paramedic and senior provincial director with AHS EMS.
The Alberta Fire Fighters Association was quick to condemn the province’s plans, calling it a “short-sighted decision that will result in negative patient outcomes.”
The changes will not make the system more cost-effective, says the association.
“This consolidation will result in longer wait times for an EMS crew to arrive at the location of a person in need of medical attention and job losses across the province,” said association president Brad Readman.