EMS workers upset over service

An emergency medical services worker in rural Central Alberta says ambulance service has gone downhill since Alberta Health Services came on the scene.

An emergency medical services worker in rural Central Alberta says ambulance service has gone downhill since Alberta Health Services came on the scene.

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.

The EMS worker, who did not want to use his name for fear of losing his job, said rural EMS workers are spending too much time in Red Deer, where they are now required to help serve.

“You have places like Innisfail, Rocky Mountain House, Sylvan Lake, Lacombe all flexing into Red Deer, leaving their services with only one or no ambulances,” said the emergency medical technician.

He said rural EMS also have fewer paramedics to provide a higher level of care when they do respond to calls in Red Deer.

“(AHS) is trying so hard to save money now that it’s just not working.”

Darren Sandbeck, AHS executive director for EMS operations in Calgary and Central zone, said AHS operates a borderless system, which means ambulances move around.

“Although an ambulance crew may be moving into a community to provide coverage, there’s other vehicles moving to provide coverage to that community (where the ambulance crew is stationed),” Sandbeck said.

He said at times communities may experience different levels of ambulance care, but the borderless system is about the closest, most appropriate unit responding and if necessary, backup is provided to crews as soon as possible.

Elisabeth Ballermann, president of the Health Sciences Association of Alberta, the union that represents many EMS workers, said more rural EMS are responding to urban calls.

“That’s a frequent refrain from members in the rural area,” Ballermann said.

“I think Albertans need to pay attention and I think Albertans need to demand that we have the appropriate services in place.”

She said the province likes to focus on having the lowest taxes in Canada, but EMS needs funding.

More than 80 per cent of rural EMS workers who responded to a recent HSAA survey said they don’t have enough resources in their zone.

The City of Red Deer has a contract with AHS to provide ambulance services and last August, Red Deer EMS was reduced to five ambulances from nine after AHS determined that five ambulances would meet the vast majority of calls.

Greg Adair, deputy chief of Red Deer Emergency Services, said having fewer Red Deer ambulances is working.

“Approximately 20 times a month, we have an ambulance respond to a resident in Red Deer that isn’t a Red Deer Emergency Services unit,” Adair said.

“Typically the response time hasn’t increased. The City of Red Deer is looking for four minutes 90 per cent of the time. That’s what our mandate is here. Alberta Health Services doesn’t have that same standard.”

Red Deer fire emergency crews include a paramedic.

But Adair said the wait time for EMS patients in the emergency department is “still a challenge.”

Recently, the province announced the Health Quality Council of Alberta will review EMS, and HSAA members will be sitting on AHS committees to respond to EMS issues.