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Paramedics shortage causes delay in ambulance calls through holidays: HSAA

Last Updated Jan 6, 2022 at 4:21 pm MDT

An EMS badge.

Despite dialing 911 for medical emergencies, some people had to wait up to an hour to get an ambulance to show up over the holidays.

The Health Sciences Association of Alberta (HSAA), the union which represents paramedics in the province, says it’s due to a shortage of paramedics and that Calgary was down ten ambulances on New Year’s Eve.

“Our paramedics are absolutely fatigued. They are struggling every day just to get through this ship and do everything they can to try and hold the [healthcare] system together,” HSAA president Mike Parker told CityNews Calgary.

Parker says there are no supports from the government or Alberta Health Services and the province’s paramedics are struggling.

WATCH: CityNews’ Stefanie Lasuik reports on one paramedic speaking out about the egregious wait times for emergency services in Alberta.

He reiterates that some paramedics had to leave their community to drive for up to an hour to get to an emergency because there weren’t enough ambulances.

“The mental health impact of lights and sirens for an hour, the stress levels that are in those trucks as they are responding, the updating [they receive] as a patient is getting sicker and sicker as they are still 40 or 50 kilometers away from that call is devastating on a healthcare professional,” he added.

“Nobody got into this industry to cause harm, and an hour response time to a 911 call, they know what they’re heading into and when they get there, there are these heightened states from the families who have been waiting over an hour wondering what the hell is going on with this system?”

The HSAA is reporting 139 red alerts across 41 communities over the holidays. A red alert means no ambulance is available to respond to a medical emergency.


“At the end of it, [paramedics] are doing all they can with no supports from their employer, no supports from this government, and I would suggest no recognition that it’s even an issue from those two parties,” Parker added.

Meantime, Alberta Health Services says the virus is impacting the healthcare system, as they’re seeing increased numbers of healthcare workers calling off work sick.

In a statement to CityNews Calgary, AHS says:

“EMS continues to experience system pressures for a variety of reasons including the COVID-19 pandemic, staff sickness due to COVID-19 and cold weather events.

“Call answer time through dispatch is being maintained. However, with the high demand of calls being received, some challenges, such as longer wait times, exist. That said, those who require EMS transport for critical events are still receiving that care.

“As in other jurisdictions, AHS is beginning to see increased numbers of healthcare workers off on sick days.

“This is now beginning to impact some healthcare services, particularly some acute care services at rural sites where staff illness or isolation is leading to staffing challenges.

“However, we have been planning for increased staff illness as COVID-19 cases increase due to the Omicron variant. Albertans who need care will receive it.

“Plans include shifting staff members to areas of highest priority, using alternate models of care, and prioritizing HCWs for testing to maximize available workforce.

“If required, reduction in services and surgeries will be contemplated in order to redeploy staff to areas of highest need.

“The number of COVID-19 positive healthcare workers in December appears at this point to have been in line with what we have seen in recent months.

“Early indications from our electronic staffing system is that the sick rate for December 2021 will not be much different from previous years so far.

“However, we know we will see increased sick rates in the days ahead as Omicron spread continues.

“For context: The all AHS sick rate for December 2019 was 5.3%; the all AHS sick rate for December 2020 was 5.6%; the all AHS sick rate for November 2021 was 5.4%

“(The data for December 2021 is preliminary given that not all staff are scheduled within our electronic staffing system. AHS compiles the complete data monthly after the end of each month).

“We are extremely proud of our physicians and staff, as they continue to go above and beyond to care and support Albertans. It has been an extremely long, challenging and tiring 22 months for everyone working in healthcare – especially those working the frontlines.”