Lacombe’s ambulance service has seen a jump in call volume and longer waits for crews in hospitals since the province took control of ambulance service.
Other emergency medical services in Alberta are sure to be experiencing similar issues, said Lacombe City Coun. Outi Kite, who is also chair of the Lacombe Municipal Ambulance Service Association.
“It’s a universal concern,” said Kite.
“This is not new to (Alberta Health Services). We have been bringing this up for years.”
Health Quality Council of Alberta is conducting a review of ground ambulance service, announced earlier this year, and is asking EMS organizations across the province to fill out a questionnaire.
Governance for ambulance service was a municipal responsibility until April 2009, when Alberta Health Services took it over to improve patient care, accountability and efficiency.
A borderless system was introduced so ambulances move around and cover other communities.
In its questionnaire, Lacombe Municipal Ambulance Service said that at times there have been no ambulances in Lacombe County, including the City of Lacombe.
The increase number of interfacility transfers and coverage to other municipalities have also increased operating costs and reduced emergency coverage.
Lacombe Municipal Ambulance Service says dispatch centres don’t understand that geography, resources, shifting and staff fatigue are different for rural areas.
EMS resource planning appears based on metro models and smaller communities and rural areas do not have the same number of trained staff, equipment and specialty teams.
Kite said Lacombe Municipal Ambulance Service had more than 2,000 calls in 2010 and more than 3,000 in 2011, with the same number of ambulances.
Simply increasing the number of ambulances wouldn’t address quality of care, she said.
“I know that there are many times the patient waits on the ambulance cot in the emergency ward. That’s not comfortable. That’s not considered quality of care.”
In the first 11 months of 2011, Lacombe Municipal Ambulance Service spent 1,096 hours waiting in hospitals compared to 651 hours in 2010.
There is no process in place to hand over patients who have been transferred to another facility for diagnostics or treatment so ambulance staff must wait.
“If Alberta Health Services was to put some of the speciality services into local communities, even in rural settings, then they wouldn’t need to transfer patients for all these different services,” Kite said.