EMS 911 calls from Red Deer are being transitioned to one of three existing Alberta Health Services dispatch centres, raising concerns about delays jeopardizing patient care. (Contributed photo).

Red Deer’s mayor says new emergency dispatch system could imperil patient care

Delays will result from separating fire and ambulance calls, says Veer

Red Deer city council is urging the provincial government to keep the region’s existing emergency dispatch system.

Alberta Health Services’ new consolidated dispatch would result in delayed patient care and “could mean the difference between life and death,” Mayor Tara Veer said in a release Monday.

The City of Red Deer was notified Aug. 4 that AHS intends to remove integrated municipal ambulance dispatch services in Red Deer, Lethbridge, Calgary and the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo.

Instead, dispatch services would be consolidated into three AHS communications centres in Peace River, Edmonton and Calgary.

This is being done in an effort to save $5 million. But Red Deer city council believes the change will put patient care at risk across Alberta.

“The City of Red Deer strongly believes a consolidation will not result in cost savings for the provincial government in the medium to long term,” said Veer, who feels patients’ health will be put at risk by slower response times ”where seconds count.”

The health minister’s decision was based on the recommendations of an Ernst and Young report on possible cost savings, published in February.

According to the City of Red Deer, its integrated fire and emergency ambulance service “is regarded nationally and internationally for its efficiency, and most importantly, patient-first approach.”

All firefighters and paramedics with Red Deer Emergency Services are fire medics, meaning they are trained to do both jobs, whereas AHS responders are only trained for ambulance service.

Fire vehicles may not be initially sent to accidents along with an ambulance, necessitating some second calls, with 911 callers having to repeat their locations and situations, says the city.

City figures show that Red Deer’s 911 emergency communications centre dispatches vehicles faster than the AHS emergency communications centre in Edmonton, says the city.

Last quarter, the AHS communications centre in Edmonton averaged a dispatch time of 92 seconds — despite AHS having a standard of 90 seconds, says the city.

Red Deer’s system averaged 71 seconds during the same period.

While AHS hopes to save $5 million a year with the new system, Veer feels it’s already saving money under the existing integrated dispatch system: “For several years, local fire units have been providing fire medic services to AHS at no cost to them in the interest of ensuring public safety and positive patient outcomes.”

Red Deer City Council

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