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Dispatch system not the cause of long ambulance wait times, province says


The provincial government released an overview of two reports looking into Alberta's troubled EMS system, including a review of ambulance dispatch.

Health Minister Jason Copping, Alberta Health Services (AHS) interim president Mauro Chies, and EMS reform parliamentary secretary RJ Sigurdson made the announcement Monday.

Findings from a third party report, commissioned by Pricewaterhousecoopers (PwC) found that the province’s move to a centralized dispatch centre in 2021 did not factor into increased wait times, rather an increase call volume did.

PwC says that the design of Alberta’s system structure is strongly aligned with leading practice.

It had more than 40 recommendations to improve the entirety of the system.

The Alberta Medical Services Advisory Committee (AEPAC) review was also released.

The province says it will accept all recommendations made by both reports, with some coming immediately, others taking months and while some will be long-term goals.

In the AEPAC report, it notes that it plans to raise Albertans’ awareness on when they should call for an ambulance or whether a suitable option is available.

Another is to create a pilot program that sees paramedics treat and refer patients on scene, whenever safe and appropriate.

The average time to respond to an event has increased by 18.5 minutes due to hospital wait times.

PwC also found that response times provincially were up 37 per cent for life-threatening events in the second quarter of 2022 compared to three years prior.

In metro regions, they were up 52 per cent.


The province will now bring in 20 new ambulances – 10 in Calgary and 10 in Edmonton – during peak hours to handle the higher call volume.

AHS says it has already started to implement its 10-point plan to address issues in the system.

This is on top of the announcement made last year where more than 260 paramedics were hired and Alberta added 19 ambulances to its fleet.

Due to a lack of ambulances being made available the PwC report says that from the end of 2021 to the second quarter of 2022, dispatch times increased from 79 seconds to 238 seconds or a 201 per cent increase.

To free up paramedics, the province will look to third-party contractors to transfer non-emergency patients.

A new policy implemented by AHS at hospitals, will see stable and less urgent patients assessed and transferred to hospital waiting areas to free up paramedics and send them off to their next transfer.

“The work underway is key to ensuring that patients requiring care from emergency medical services get that care while we improve the efficiency of EMS patient flow,” said Chies.

“The detailed policy is only for stable and less urgent patients arriving by ambulance,” added Copping.

“We know paramedics can get tied up for hours in busy hospitals until less urgent patients are admitted. Speeding up EMS transfers at hospitals will get paramedics and ambulances back on the road to respond to Albertans 911 calls sooner.”

As for staffing shortages, paramedics from Australia could be brought in through immigration processes to fill holes in the system.

The province has been criticized for failing to properly support paramedics amid a rising demand of emergency calls.

Requests to 911 have increased 30 per cent since 2021 across the province and data from the first 10 months of 2022 show more than 9,600 EMS shifts went unfilled in the Calgary area alone.

Funding for the improvements has not been secured, other than the $64 million in last year’s budget.


Alberta NDP health-care critic David Shepherd says this report is “too little, too late.”

“Once again, the UCP is ignoring requests from paramedics themselves to get crews off-shift on time, offer all paramedics a permanent full-time contract, and expand harm reduction services to cut down the huge number of drug poisoning calls,” said Shepherd in a statement Monday.

“The fact that the solutions called for by paramedics are not included in this report is a serious failure by this government, and it’s frustrating to see a task force spend a year coming up with a recommendation to form another task force, this time for emergency departments.”


Absent from Monday's announcement was any commitment for more ambulances in southern Alberta or any rural communities.

The reports highlighted that paramedics in rural areas have been overworked and that wait times for ambulances have increased.

The lack of support for southern Alberta has prompted some criticism.

Coaldale fire chief Kevin McKeown says he is happy to see the province committing to more ambulances, but thinks there’s still a need for ambulances outside of the province's two biggest cities.

McKeown says there have been times when ambulances from Coaldale have been called into Lethbridge, because Lethbridge ambulances have been needed in other communities like Calgary.

"We've seen a lot of work on the province's side to increase capacity in Calgary and Edmonton, and that's great, much needed," said McKeown. "We're also experiencing ambulance delays and a lack of ambulance availability in the south."

President of the Alberta Paramedics Association Len Stelmaschuk wants to see more paramedics in rural communities, but says he understands why it may not be a priority for the province.

"They're focused on Edmonton and Calgary, and I'm thinking that part of it is probably on the idea that's where the largest volumes are,” he said.

McKeown believes the centralization of EMS dispatch and a lack of decision making power for local EMS units have created inefficiencies.

"We understand what's happening locally," he said. "Whereas people that're up in Edmonton, they don't see what we're dealing with every day in Coaldale. It's challenging for them to make the best decisions on health care when they're not here every day."

The province hasn’t announced when new ambulances will arrive in southern Alberta. Top Stories

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