Red Deer’s two UCP MLAs chose political partisanship over protecting their constituents’ interests by opposing a motion that would have restored local ambulance dispatching, says Red Deer’s mayor.
“Monday’s vote speaks to the challenge of party politics and the conflict between partisanship and the party line, and the need for our political representatives to represent the community’s opinion,” said Mayor Tara Veer.
Red Deer North MLA Adriana LaGrange and Red Deer South MLA Jason Stephan joined their UCP cohort on Monday by voting against restoring local ambulance service in the legislature — despite a long campaign by Red Deer’s mayor, city council and Emergency Services Chief Ken McMullen to sound the alarm over how consolidated ambulance dispatching jeopardizes public health.
Veer, who’s repeatedly stated local dispatching saves lives and is in the community’s interest, said their vote was “deflating” but not surprising.
LaGrange and Stephan explained their positions in emails to the Advocate. The MLAs stated that Alberta Health Services has used the consolidated system to dispatch ambulances successfully for 60 per cent of Albertans since 2009, including the Edmonton area.
They added the change-over occurred nearly two months ago and is “working well.”
LaGrange and Stephan said AHS has reviewed and responded to all of the specific concerns raised by Red Deer, and assured them that the switch has not impacted performance.
Meanwhile, the Mayors of Red Deer, Calgary, Lethbridge, and the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo, have been lobbying the government for months to step in and reverse Alberta Health Services’ decision to consolidate ambulance dispatch to a few centralized hubs.
The change took place in January, but the four communities want to bring back a local ambulance dispatch system that’s integrated with local fire dispatch, saying it works best since they have cross-trained fire-medics.
Veer said she and McMullen has multiple meetings with LaGrange and Stephan to explain their concerns. “They’ve been afforded technical briefings… we’ve toured them through the dispatch centre…”
Since January, McMullen has spoken out about some ambulances being misdirected by dispatchers unfamiliar with the area. He said some sick or injured people have also waited too long for far-away ambulance crews to arrive, while local fire-medics — who were closer and cross-trained to help at medical emergencies — were sitting in their stations, unaware of the 911 ambulance calls.
Monday’s defeated legislature motion urged the government to take into consideration the views of the residents of Calgary, Lethbridge, and Red Deer, “who are well served by a local, integrated model of emergency dispatch,” and take immediate steps to reverse the decision to implement the centralization of the dispatch of emergency medical services.
It was shot down by a vote of 22-7. Only NDP MLAs voted for it.
Veer noted Fort-McMurray-Wood Buffalo MLA Tany Yao chose to abstain rather than voting along with his other UCP members, in recognition of the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo’s battle to restore local ambulance dispatching service.
LaGrange said she opposed the bill because “Minister Shandro respects the cities’ concerns and has put a process in place for Alberta Health and AHS to work with the City of Red Deer to continue to improve EMS services, including reinvesting every dollar saved directly back into improving ground ambulance services.
“I’m confident that continued oversight and review on how the new service is working will continue during this transition period,” LaGrange said, adding “The NDP’s attempt to politicize the issue for their own purposes adds nothing.”
This story has been corrected to reflect Monday’s vote was concerning a motion and not a bill.