EMS capacity in Alberta to be immediately increased, committee to help pave future EMS path
Alberta unveiled a 10-point plan Monday to deal with unprecedented stress on the provincial EMS system.
Health Minister Jason Copping announced the plan, along with an advisory committee, saying EMS is dealing with unprecedented demands, including a 30 per cent increase in 911 calls over the last several months due in part to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Staffing fatigue, illness, and delays in the arrival of new ambulances and specialized parts are also concerns.
“Responding to medical emergencies is a critical need for all Albertans. I am honoured to have this opportunity to make a difference and improve the system for the long term,” said Copping.
An EMS advisory committee has been created to provide immediate and long-term recommendations to the health minister by May and will be co-chaired by Highwood MLA RJ Sigurdson and Grande Prairie MLA Tracy Allard.
AHS is also working on a 10-point plan aimed at increasing capacity to EMS. Officials say five actions are already underway including:
- Better managing staff fatigue
- Transferring non-emergency or low priority calls to other agencies
- Refraining from sending ambulances to non-injury crashes
- Hiring paramedics as quickly as possible to fill vacancies, opening discussions with post-secondary institutions on expanding EMS training courses
- Improving the management of inter-facility patient transfers. Pilot projects introduced where patients are transported in vehicles other than ambulances
- The creation of an integrated operations centre in Calgary
- Adjusting emergency call evaluation protocols and provincial dispatching processes to determine if its appropriate for an ambulance from outside a jurisdiction to respond
- Pre-empting and diverting workflow to prioritize ambulances for calls with the greatest urgent medical need
- Developing a provincial service plan for the next five to 10 years
- Creating an inter-facility transfer pilot where units within a geographical area would be dedicated to transfers.
The province is also issuing a request for proposals to conduct a third party review of EMS dispatch in February.
The changes comes amid growing calls for changes from the union representing Alberta paramedics over concerns about red alerts in Calgary and Edmonton, which is when there are no ambulances available to respond to emergency calls in a jurisdiction.
On Monday, the opposition NDP also revealed data obtained through a Freedom of Information request showing Alberta’s two largest cities were issuing red alerts roughly every 90 minutes.
According to the NDP, Calgary and Edmonton saw 2,276 code reds between Aug. 1 and Dec. 6, 2021, which was an average of 17 per day. In 2020, Calgary saw an average of nine per day.
“Albertans need to know that when they are in distress and call 911 that an ambulance will reach them as quickly as possible,” said Alberta NDP Health Critic David Shepherd.
“The fact that an ambulance wasn’t available almost every hour of the day in our province’s two major cities is severely alarming.”
While Shepherd recognizes pressure on EMS has risen during the pandemic, he’s critical of the UCP’s changes to ambulance dispatch services, which took place last January.
He’s calling on the UCP to start reporting EMS red alerts to the public and to restore the Hospital EMS Liaison Officers Program (HELO) which was cancelled by the UCP in October 2019.
The health minister says response times are posted online for different response times and says the new committee will be considering a number of different options to improve EMS response times.
Mike Parker, president of the Health Sciences Association of Alberta, the union representing EMS workers, issued a statement Monday afternoon following the announcement.
“It is long past time an Alberta government got to work on solving the EMS crisis in Alberta. Our advocacy to expose the state of EMS by reporting red alerts has made the need for action clear," it read.
“HSAA has been asked to come to the table to come up with solutions. As the experts in the delivery of emergency medical services we are more than willing to get to work. However, to be clear, HSAA will not be recommending or supportive of any privatization efforts.
“My focus throughout this process will be the health of Albertans and ensuring care is there when they need it. Every dollar needs to be spent on patient care — not profits for private contractors.”
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