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Alberta mayors frustrated, blindsided by emergency dispatch services consolidation

Last Updated Aug 5, 2020 at 5:12 pm MDT

PHOTO. Mayor Don Scott, from 2018. MYMCMURRAY/Melanie Walsh.

Mayor Don Scott, along with the Mayors of Calgary, Lethbridge and Red Deer, expressed their disagreements with Alberta’s plans to consolidate EMS 911 dispatch services.

The province announced it will consolidate all remaining municipally run EMS 911 dispatch services on Aug. 4, 2020.

Alberta said the consolidation will save money and improve patient care.

Mayor Tara Veer of Red Deer said she is frustrated to revisit the issue after previous governments also rejected the move.

“We would like to be very clear in our position this issue is about people and not politics, because in the chain of survival seconds matter.”

RELATED: AHS to take control of ambulance dispatching

Alberta Health Services (AHS) ran a dispatch system for the rest of the province since 2009.

AHS said this will allow EMS to send the nearest available ambulance to a patient regardless of geographic boundaries.

The mayors’ letter cited an Ernst and Young report from 2019 recommending the change.

If approved, AHS said the potential cost savings for Alberta is $6-million per year.

Mayor Scott voiced his displeasure with consolidation saying the report lacked input from the affected municipalities.

“This is about service delivery and saving lives. Our current system has better time-based responses than the AHS model. We often describe our location by landmarks and markers; there is absolutely no doubt that the AHS model will cause delays.”

Wood Buffalo’s service delivery system was in place since 1979.

He said the Municipality dispatches an ambulance quicker than the 90-seconds AHS prescribes about 90 per cent of the time.

“Over 80 per cent of our centre’s calls come in via wireless line requiring address verification techniques. We have a large number of transient workers, who also use landmarks to identify their location. We can best protect families with the existing model.”

The service delivery area, Mayor Scott said, is roughly that of Nova Scotia.

If consolidation goes forward, he said the RMWB will lose four dispatchers along with their local knowledge.

“Our dispatchers hold vital local knowledge and I envision a day when invaluable minutes will be lost as a provincial dispatcher tries to understand exactly where “Supertest” or “The Bridge to Nowhere” is.”

Mayor Don Scott said the estimated $660,000 in savings will not make up for the negative patient outcomes.

“It doesn’t make any financial sense, and if that’s not the driver then all the other points that we’ve been making should be taken into account.”

Mayor Scott reflected briefly on how the province defeated consolidation during his time as an MLA between 2013-15.

Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi also spoke with frustration about the recurring issue.

He recalled a city report from 2015 showed Calgary patient wait times would increase to an average of nearly three minutes.

“I happen to care about those people who will die in the first three minutes, the cardiac patients, people like my Dad who had a traumatic brain injury, and who need that lifesaving assistance and they need it quickly.”

Lethbridge Mayor Chris Spearman said the current model of collaboration works.

“We believe that collaboration is the secret of success that we can maintain and enhance an effective system together, not dividing the system and centralizing it.”

The union representing Alberta’s Firefighters also said they also don’t approve of the move.

President Brad Readman of the Alberta Firefighters Association said the decision is short-sighted and will result in negative outcomes.

“This consolidation will result in longer wait times for an EMS crew to arrive at the location of a person in need of medical attention and job losses across the province. These reckless decisions that are being made without consultation from the front line first responders that they affect need to stop.”

Readman added he worries about the safety of front line EMS providers and citizens affected by the changes.

All four mayors addressed a letter to Premier Jason Kenney and Health Minister Tyler Shandro urging them to reverse the decision.

Mayor Scott urged Albertans to contact their MLAs about the proposed changes to the province’s dispatch services.

Red Deer Mayor Tara Veer said Shandro agreed to meet with them in late August.

This article includes excerpts from The Canadian Press