Red Deer will have two more ambulances running during peak demand hours starting in the first week of May as part of provincial efforts to improve EMS response in the city.
Ken McMullen, the city’s acting general manager of protective services, said the city had nine ambulances in 2008 before the province took over the EMS service and reduced the city’s ambulances to five. That’s when Red Deer EMS became part of the regional system with close to 50 ambulances.
“We have always told Alberta Health Services that we needed more ambulances here in the City of Red Deer so as part of their reinvestment in Red Deer and the health care system in December, they added one peak ambulance, which runs from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m,” McMullen said.
He said that ambulance resulted in a nice improvement and hopes to see more when the next two peak ambulances start sometime in the first week of May, and run from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., and from 12 p.m. to midnight. Ensuring staff are actually done work at the end of their shift has always been a challenge so having other units that start and stop at different times will help.
The new ambulances the city ordered two years ago in anticipation of the need for more have not yet arrived. Other services in Alberta are also waiting on orders, he added.
“We’re looking at used ambulances right now, we’re looking at leasing ambulances as an option, just to make sure we have enough units available for the rollout of two new units.”
He said Red Deer is also looking to hire about 20 more fire medics, which is also proving to be difficult.
“We are certainly seeing a supply and demand issue for paramedics. Most paramedics services are hiring right now so we’re competing with all of our other partners.”
But McMullen said with about 180 fire medics, Red Deer has enough staff to be able to run the new units.
On Monday, Health Minister Jason Copping said in the past two years emergency call volumes have reached up to 30 per cent above pre-pandemic levels so the 2023 provincial has $196 million in new EMS funding over three years to add more paramedics across Alberta and improve response times. Another $15 million over three years will be put towards new ambulances and to upgrade equipment.
He said Alberta Health Services has also put in place a 45-minute, hand-over target at emergency departments to reduce the time EMS workers wait with patients in hospital and to get ambulances back into the community sooner.
McMullen said protocols to address the hand-over delay only rolled out at Red Deer hospital 10 days ago, but it has already resulted in some very good success.
“Our units are not waiting an excessive amount of time as often as they have in the past. We’re not there yet. We have a way to go, but from an improvement perspective we are seeing an improvement,” McMullen said.
NDP health critic David Shepherd said Copping’s pre-election announcement doesn’t repair the years of damage Danielle Smith and the UCP have done to Alberta’s ambulance system.
“After four years under the UCP, Albertans continue to wait longer than ever for ambulances to arrive. Paramedics remain exhausted, burnt-out, and under excruciating pressure. Crews are still frequently stuck at overwhelmed emergency rooms, unable to transfer their patients for hours on end when they should be home with their families,” Shepherd said in a statement.