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Alberta to alleviate pressure as paramedics say they're overwhelmed and understaffed

Last Updated May 26, 2022 at 6:18 pm MST

An EMS badge. (Photo: Tom Ross, CityNews Calgary) 2022/05/26/yycparamedic.jpg 2022/05/26/yycparamedic.jpg 2022/05/26/yycparamedic.jpg

The provincial government says it’s trying to alleviate some pressure from Alberta’s Emergency Medical Services as paramedics have been demanding help for years.

“So, the people dialing 911 are getting help, there is a delay over our targets. These additional resources will definitely help. And we’re going to keep working until we get the times down to the targets,” Health Minister Jason Copping said in a one-on-one with CityNews.

On Wednesday, his department announced an influx of money allocated in Budget 2022 will go towards creating over a hundred new EMS positions and extending 70 temporary ones.

That means there will be 19 new ambulances and five support vehicles on the streets.

“We are going to continue to work to get this problem solved until we actually get it solved. Resources is part of it, but it’s also how do we better use resources, and then also, how do we continue to attract and retain people working in the system,” Copping added.

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He notes COVID-19 further increased the strain on EMS, and they’re supporting a 10-point action plan Alberta Health Services (AHS) put forward.

Calgary is expected to receive four additional ambulances, while Edmonton gets five this June.

Each city will receive another five ambulances each by the end of September

But Mike Parker, president of the Health Sciences Association Of Alberta, says that isn’t good enough to alleviate the pressures being faced.

“So, if you want to add five more trucks in Edmonton, that’ll give us a few more empty trucks because we have got to get the people,” he said.

“The problem is, we’ve been sitting with vacant trucks for the last few weeks. Just as an example, on the weekend in Edmonton, we had 14 empty ambulances [and] no personnel to put on them.”

Parker says unless the province is able to magically get the hiring frenzy done then it may help, but he doesn’t expect that to happen.

“There is no lineup of paramedics that are coming in the door to work here right now,” Parker added.

“I think AHS is the problem, it’s a toxic employer. We’ve got people exiting non-stop.”

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He says AHS needs to end forced overtime for paramedics, transfer casual employees to full-time regular workers, and do more to better retain the staff they currently have.

“Now, you tell me why we’ve got 14 empty trucks in the city of Edmonton. It’s because they cannot work in this environment any longer. When you’re doing 12 hours of full-time back-to-back calls, and then forced overtime on top of that, this is where they’re at. We haven’t treated them with the respect they deserve as our front-line emergency services.”

The province says it’s also looking to increase the efficiency of patient transport by deploying five non-emergency transport vehicles on evenings and weekends.

Four of those will be positioned in Edmonton and one in Calgary by the end of June.

“AHS EMS is continuing to experience the ‘new normal of 30 per cent increase in call volume, and we are taking tangible steps to address this. These positions will help ensure we have sustainable staffing in place immediately and over the longer term,” Chief Paramedic Darren Sandbeck said in a press release.

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“We are grateful for the funding and support from Alberta Health, which has enabled this resourcing as an important component of the EMS 10-point plan.”

Additionally, more 24/7 ambulance coverage will be available in Okotoks and Chestermere by the end of August