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Proposed consolidation of dispatch services re-emerges at RMWB Council

Last Updated Sep 6, 2020 at 5:33 pm MST

PHOTO. A member of Regional Emergency Services at the control board of its municipal emergency dispatch system. Supplied by the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo.

The future of Wood Buffalo’s emergency dispatch services (RES) is the focus of RMWB Council’s first fall meeting.

Mayor and Councillors will hold their first public session of 2020-2021 on Sept. 8.

The province announced the consolidation of all remaining municipal emergency dispatch services under Alberta Health Services (AHS) on Aug. 4, 2020.

RELATED: AHS to take control of ambulance dispatching

On Aug. 5, Mayors from Wood Buffalo, Calgary, Lethbridge, and Red Deer held a joint news conference in protest.

Similar systems reside in those areas outside of the Municipality.

Mayor Don Scott penned an open letter to Alberta to Health Minister Tyler Shandro and the United Conservative government calling them to reverse the decision.

RELATED: Alberta mayors frustrated, blindsided by emergency dispatch services consolidation

RELATED: Mayor Scott urges residents to support local dispatch services

At the Sept. 8 meeting, RMWB Council will review a 2019 Ernst and Young report for Alberta Health Services on consolidation.

The report found Alberta could save $5-million through consolidation, which it defines under Recommendation 34.

“AHS should rationalize EMS dispatch and air ambulance operations including the relocation and decommissioning of underutilized airbases and a review of service agreements where services can be more efficiently delivered by AHS.”

Mayor Don Scott argued the savings pale compared to hiring and implementation costs for consolidated emergency services.

“The marginal cost-savings of $660,000 that the Government of Alberta is projecting from the consolidation within our region will be more than offset by significant reductions in the quality of service.”

Mayor Scott also said previously the RMWB stands to lose up to four staff and vital local information.

“A provincial dispatcher will not know what a 911 caller means by the ‘Bridge to Nowhere’ or ‘Supertest’. However, a local dispatcher will know Cheechum Village is not near Cheechum Lake; that they are 40 kilometres apart. A provincial dispatcher made that mistake just last month, an error caught just in time by an alert RMWB dispatcher.”

RMWB will also hear a report from the administration.

“Statistical analysis demonstrates that our 911 Emergency Communication Centre is outperforming the AHS counterpart by 41 per cent due to the in-person communication within the 911 Emergency Communication Centre.”

The administration added local dispatchers can dispatch an ambulance 48 seconds faster than AHS about 90 per cent of the time, and verify addresses up to 30 seconds faster than AHS.

It said the decision will impact residents, RES, Indigenous and rural communities, industrial mutual-aid partners, and Local HERO medevac.

The administration will recommend to RMWB Council a motion calling for continued advocacy of local emergency dispatch services.

The motion also calls for advocating for similar systems in Calgary, Lethbridge, and Red Deer.

According to the province, the current contract between AHS and the region expires on Jan. 31, 2021.

RMWB Council will also discuss a bear safety program for Wood Buffalo.