Red Deer Fire Chief Ken McMullen remains concerned about the province’s new way of dispatching ambulances. (Advocate file photo)

Red Deer Fire Chief Ken McMullen remains concerned about the province’s new way of dispatching ambulances. (Advocate file photo)

Red Deer’s mayor meeting with health minister to try to restore local ambulance dispatching

Johnston said Minister Jason Copping is up for a vitual discussion next month

Red Deer Mayor Ken Johnston is undeterred by comments from a paramedics’ union and will continue to lobby for the restoration of local ambulance dispatch.

“With respect to our colleagues, we are not at all prepared to see this issue go away,” said Johnston, who disagreed with a comment made Monday by Mike Parker, president of the Health Sciences Association of Alberta.

Parker had said Red Deer city council would do better to abandon its advocacy for a return to local ambulance dispatching and to instead lobby for more ambulances. Red Deer had lost four emergency vehicles in 2009 and now has only five ambulances, compared to a previous nine.

The whole province is now on a centralized ambulance dispatch system, said Parker, who felts this is the best option for Alberta.

Red Deer’s fire chief and director of emergency management for the city, Ken McMullen, strongly disagreed Tuesday. McMullen doesn’t believe Parker understands how Red Deer’s integrated fire-ambulance system works with cross-trained fire-medics, who are not under the HSAA but are with the International Association of Firefighters.

“I think if we sat down and showed him the impact on our community, (he) would approve of our effort,” said McMullen.

Red Deer, Calgary, Lethbridge and the regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo have been fighting to restore local ambulance dispatching in their communities, which all operate with fire-medics.

Johnston is looking forward to having a virtual meeting on the subject in early February with Alberta Health Minster Jason Copping.

The City of Red Deer plans to lobby for more emergency resources, such as ambulances, starting this summer as the current contract with Alberta Health Services ends in March 2023, said McMullen.

On Monday, Parker had said systematic inadequacies are burning out his colleagues. He stressed more ambulances and paramedics are needed so emergency responders can get adequate days off to recover from stressful work.

Many still need to be get properly fitted N95 masks, and need to be treated with more consideration, as “the heroes they are,” by their employer, Parker added.

Alberta Health Services responded through an email on Tuesday, saying “AHS values the incredible work done by our EMS teams every day and we are committed to ensuring they have the support, and resources, they need.”

A hiring effort is ongoing, with 100 paramedic positions recently filled across the province, stated an AHS spokesperson. As well, supervisors are being re-deployed to frontline duty.

As well, additional ambulances have been brought on to deal with an increasing number of emergency calls. Ambulances can also fill in from other communities, and non-urgent transfers can be deferred address shift gaps, stated the AHS spokesperson.

AHS confirmed increased emergency calls and staff illness and fatigue are contributing to challenges in the EMS system — but paramedics can take vacation time and personal days, or trade shifts. Mental health and wellness programs are also available, as are extended health benefits through Alberta Blue Cross.

The AHS spokesperson stated in an email there is an adequate supply of N95 masks and guidance about when it’s appropriate to wear them. But she contends the HSAA is wrongly attributing “Code Reds” — meaning periods when no ambulances are immediately available.

“EMS information is being selectively distributed through social media and represents only a single minute in time. Alberta’s EMS system is in near constant fluctuation.” AHS stated that ambulance availability is monitored to ensure resources are always available.

But Parker stated that whenever ambulances have to be brought in from other communities, arrival times get longer, potentially impacting health outcomes.

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