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AHS to take control of ambulance dispatching

Last Updated Aug 4, 2020 at 6:41 pm MDT

CALGARY (660 NEWS) — In a move that Alberta Health Services hopes will improve efficiency and patient care, there will be an adjustment to ambulance dispatching services in the province.

Over the next six months, EMS dispatching will be consolidated so that provincial centres handle all medical 911 calls around Alberta.

Currently, 911 calls are handled by four municipally-run contracted satellite dispatch sites in Calgary, Lethbridge, Red Deer and the Municipality of Wood Buffalo. When you call 911, a local dispatcher will then transfer you to one of these sites to determine where an ambulance should be sent.

Under the new system, the local dispatcher will instead transfer the call to an AHS operator in Calgary, Peace River, or Edmonton.

The change reflects a recommendation in the province’s review of AHS, said Minister of Health Tyler Shandro.

“The provincial EMS dispatch system allows for better coordination of all EMS resources, including ground ambulances, and air resources, and reliable response times. EMS dispatch consolidation supports improved health integration and will facilitate broader health reforms.”

Consolidating services has resulted in some concern, including from Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi, that it may result in longer response times. It was assured that there will not be any issues.

“This is not true,” said Chief Paramedic Darren Sandbeck. “What is important to understand is this consolidation changes nothing with respect to the 911 call workflows that exist today.”

Sandbeck said it could also make the process easier in many situations, such as the recent deadly rollover on the Columbia Icefield in Jasper National Park last month. By having a consolidated service for responding units, it made it easier to redirect resources and at the same time still respond to other calls happening at the same time elsewhere.

In response to a reporter’s question about dealing with urban sprawl in a place like Calgary and how they plan on making sure units can effectively respond to all areas, Sandbeck said that is always something to consider.

“Geography is a challenge in this province in a number of places, not just in the cities. But we are able to effectively relocated ambulances to provide coverage to those areas,” he said.

According to the AHS press release, EMS 911 dispatch also has the ability to involve real-time physician consultation on emergency calls to ensure patients get the highest quality care when they need it.

This transition will affect EMS 911 dispatch services only. All local fire, police and Medical First Response will still be dispatched by municipal services.

AHS said this allows EMS to send the nearest available ambulance to a patient regardless of geographic boundaries and is expected to save over $6 million a year.

“The consolidation is the right decision for any Albertan needing emergency medical care,” said Dr. Verna Yiu, AHS President and CEO. “This will improve care and ensure we are being fiscally responsible.”

The change officially got underway on August 4, and callers to 911 should not notice any change as this is implemented.

AHS EMS is also going to hire 25 new Emergency Communications Officers to handle the calls.