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While EMS changes are welcome, Red Deer needs more ambulances, says deputy chief

The city’s five ambulances are too few: Chris Kearns
Red Deer EMS staff welcomed provincial changes announced Thursday to reduce emergency response waits in Alberta. But deputy chief Chris Kearns is still fighting to get more ambulances for the city. (Black Press file photo).

Deputy Chief Chris Kearns, of Red Deer EMS, welcomes hiring 100 more ambulance workers in Alberta and creating more flexible provincial rules.

But he doesn’t believe these changes will solve all of the city’s ambulance woes.

Kearns is still in discussions with Alberta Health Services to try to get more ambulances for Red Deer. He believes the five ambulances that are now “on the go” in Red Deer are too few.

A decade ago, there were nine ambulances to respond to local emergency calls, but four were taken off the road when the city signed a contract with Alberta Health Services (AHS) in 2010.

Kearns declined to specify exactly how many more ambulances the city needs, but he admitted “any more would be an improvement.”

Alberta Health Minister Jason Copping said on Thursday that plans are underway to reduce some unacceptably long waits for ambulances in Alberta. This means hiring 100 more ambulance workers in the province and extend 70 temporary positions. This would be in addition to the 230 extra ambulance workers who were hired in the past two years, said the minister.

Kearns hopes some of these new EMS worker hires will come to Red Deer, rather than just the two larger centres.

“We are always happy when the government is willing to make changes and work with us,” he added.

Copping’s UCP government is prepared to provide a one-year exemption to current staffing requirements to allow two emergency medical responders (EMRs) who have a lower level of training than a paramedic, to staff ambulances that transfer non-urgent patients.

In addition, the exemption would allow an EMR to work alongside a paramedic when responding to more urgent calls.

Mike Parker, president of Health Sciences Association of Alberta, the ambulance workers’ union, said these changes will make a difference in some communities, but “will not turn the tide of a system in crisis.”

“We need to be addressing bigger issues around working conditions, so we can keep the workers we have,” Parker added, and implement strategies to ensure all EMS departments are fully staffed “instead of the current “just-in-time” approach to staffing.”

Kearns said he looks forward to seeing the results of three pilot EMS projects that were announced on Thursday for Strathcona County and Spruce Grove. They will involve launching new “community response units” and allowing first responders to cancel ambulance requests when not needed.

Kearns said the two municipalities put forward these projects, so the results would later have to be assessed to see if they would work for Red Deer.

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