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EMS staffing shortage crisis in Alberta putting lives at risk: former paramedic

An EMS badge. (PHOTO: Tom Ross, 660 NEWS)

A mom and former paramedic whose daughter died after a delayed emergency response is just one of the many Albertans calling for the province to address the EMS staffing shortage crisis.

Sally Gourlie’s daughter was only 30 years old when she passed away in Jan. 2021 from a cardiac arrest.

“There was a delay in response from the fire department. When a cardiac arrest comes in it automatically gets sent over to the fire department as an echo. And they were not paged, she only lived a block and a half away and it took 30 minutes after several attempts for the EMS department to get ahold of fire,” explained Gourlie.

“Unfortunately, it was 30 minutes before they got to her and they tried everything and it was unsuccessful.”


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“We can’t even maintain response times on an operational daily program. We don’t have the paramedics to respond to the calls that come in every single day,” said Mike Parker, the president of the Health Sciences Association of Alberta.

“Our dispatch centres are now initiating a rapid disconnect protocol, where they’re hanging up on people because they have another call coming and no people to answer those calls.”

Parker is calling for Alberta Health Services to recognize the crisis and allocate more resources to the road, especially during the pandemic.

“Our membership, those on the frontlines of healthcare protecting Albertans, need assistance. They need backup. They need the resources to the frontlines to ensure that we can get to Albertans when they call in their time of need.”

That’s prompted a letter-writing campaign to convince MLAs to act.

WATCH: Paramedics say the staffing shortages being seen in Alberta could have fatal outcomes. 

Gourlie is also a co-chair of Cochrane’s EMS crisis citizen action group on Facebook, one among many which share alerts about ambulance availability – or lack thereof – in their towns.

“It’s been in discussion with some of these small towns: maybe they’re going to go back to controlling their own ambulances instead of AHS,” said Gourlie.

“There’s lots of pros and cons to that, and of course, every town is going to have to look at that very carefully, because that is going to affect their budgets greatly. But then we can assure that our ambulances are staying in our area.”

In an email to CityNews, Alberta Health Services says that “While call volumes are very high, EMS will continue to respond to all emergencies,” and they have brought on additional staff and ambulances.

Meanwhile, HSAA reported this week that there are at least 214 unfilled paramedic shifts in Alberta.