A pair of ambulances outside the ambulance bay beside the emergency department at Red Deer Regional Hospital. (Advocate file photo)

A pair of ambulances outside the ambulance bay beside the emergency department at Red Deer Regional Hospital. (Advocate file photo)

Red Deer mayor urges new health minister to reverse ambulance dispatch changes

‘What we had is what we want,’ says Mayor Ken Johnston

Red Deer Mayor Ken Johnston was among the civic leaders who met with Alberta’s health minister this week to try to reverse provincial changes to ambulance dispatching.

“If major centres are still struggling with their response times and patient’s health is being affected in a negative way, I think the minister must understand… the core of this is patient care,” said Johnston.

On Monday, Johnston and the mayors of Calgary, Lethbridge and the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo attended a virtual meeting with Health Minister Jason Copping.

The minister was urged to reconsider a decision made by his predecessor to consolidate ambulance dispatching into several provincial call centres, under Alberta Health Services’ jurisdiction.

Johnston said Copping seemed open-minded and willing to engage in the discussion. “We certainly reinforced that this model is flawed and it remains flawed even as call volumes increase due to COVID pressures.”

Before January 2021, Red Deer and the three other municipalities had local ambulance dispatching that worked closely with local fire dispatching. Red Deer Emergency Services officials believe this made the most sense, since Red Deer has cross-trained fire-medics that can respond to health emergencies as well as blazes.

Since the switch-over to the centralized system 15 months ago, the four municipalities have complained of having less than optimum results. Red Deer’s acting fire chief, Tyler Pelke said that while “performance metrics” are being met, “we have been experiencing some delays that could be dispatch related.”

For instance, Pelke has heard fire crews express concerns over how long it’s taken an ambulance to arrive at emergency scenes.

Emergency workers are supposed to be given safety alerts, or advanced warnings, of potential dangers — such as if the people are known to be violent, or to have weapons. But “sometimes there’s a bit of a delay,” said Pelke and crews aren’t getting timely notifications.

As emergency calls around the province rise to historic levels, straining available resources, the challenge is separating dispatch-related issues from ones resulting from a lack of ambulances, Pelke admitted.

Alberta Health Services is undertaking a long-term Provincial Service Plan for EMS that’s to be completed by Sept. 30. Johnston and Pelke anticipate the plan will study the impacts of the ambulance dispatch changes.

Johnston has no doubt the previous local ambulance dispatching system will be found superior for communities such as Red Deer, with cross-trained fire-medics.

“What we had is what we want back because it was better.”


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