Red Deer Mayor Tara Veer will be at the legislature Thursday to urge members of the UCP caucus to drop the plan to consolidate EMS dispatch by Jan. 4. (Photo by BYRON HACKETT/Advocate Staff)

Red Deer mayor takes EMS consolidation fight to Edmonton

Mayors of Red Deer, Lethbridge, Calgary and Wood Buffalo to address UCP caucus on Thursday

Red Deer Mayor Tara Veer is taking the fight to Edmonton on Thursday to stop a plan to consolidate EMS dispatch.

Veer and Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo Mayor Don Scott will be at the legislature to make their case to members of the UCP caucus to drop the plan to consolidate dispatch by Jan. 4.

Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi and Lethbridge Mayor Chris Spearman will appear by Zoom.

The mayors are livid that Health Minister Tyler Shandro has rejected calls to drop the consolidation plan, a stance made clear in a letter sent to municipalities Friday afternoon.

Veer said in a Tuesday news conference that the minister’s decision to override local concerns and not intervene is “one of the single most impactful and egregious decisions that I have witnessed in my 16 years in local government.”

The other mayors were equally as dismayed at the government’s stubborn refusal to reconsider the plan, and urged the premier to step in.

However, it appears the premier has no intention of reversing the AHS decision.

Premier Jason Kenney’s office was asked if the decision would be further reviewed in light of the mayors’ strong opposition.

The premier’s press secretary, Christine Myatt, replied in an email that “60 per cent of the province and most cities and towns — including Edmonton — already operate successfully under AHS dispatch.

“We will refer you to the minister’s lengthy explanatory letter to the mayors for more details.”

Municipal leaders thought consolidation talks were ongoing and felt blindsided by Shandro’s letter, which made clear the minister had no intention of dropping consolidation, as four previous health ministers had.

“Our concerns are valid and we have endeavoured to engage with the province in good faith,” said Veer.

“Minister Shandro’s response has failed to address our very legitimate concerns in the safety interests of our citizens.”

Veer argues the current system outperforms AHS’s dispatch and can have ambulances on the road 18 to 21 seconds faster. In Red Deer, advanced life support fire units arrive on scene 40 per cent of the time because of the city’s integrated system.

“These critical seconds are imperative for patient outcomes,” said Veer.

The government’s decision will send an additional 200,000 emergency calls a year to AHS communications centres in Peace River, Edmonton and Calgary, which are already falling short of their own standards, she said.

Veer pointed out the premier previously committed to working with cities to “ensure effective delivery of local services.”

The existing system eliminates red tape and saves money and lives, she said.

If the government moves forward with its plans, it will mean the death of the integrated system that has co-ordinated fire and ambulance response in Red Deer and some other communities for many years, she said.

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