City's hopes of reviving integrated service officially dead
The City will not be re-implementing an integrated ambulance and fire service because of restrictions put on the municipality by Alberta Health Services (AHS).
City staff researched the feasibility of returning control of ambulance service to the municipality and after running up against a list of limitations put in place by AHS, it was determined that was not possible.
“AHS indicated that ambulances located in Airdrie are not Airdrie resources but part of a regional resource that will be utilized and deployed for the purposes of AHS as they see fit,” said Assistant Fire Chief Linda Masson.
“There is no real ability to increase service given the implications AHS has placed upon us.”
Prior to July 2010, the City of Airdrie operated an integrated fire and ambulance service.
At that time, the Province took over ambulance service, a decision that cost City coffers about $4 million. In March 2011, City council was informed that response times for ambulance service had increased significantly and directed the Airdrie Fire Department to initiate a medical co-response program for the safety of local citizens.
As Airdrie is now part of the Calgary Suburban/Rural area, ambulances in the city are sent to locations as far as Sundre and Red Deer.
“Unfortunately, we are totally reliant on AHS and they won’t allow us to be integrated, which is the best option for our community,” said Mayor Peter Brown.
He said the City has asked AHS for new response times on numerous occasions and the request has been ignored.
“Don’t get me wrong, our service by paramedics is second to none,” said Brown. “This will not be resolved until we get some definite answers. We were told we would receive comparable or better service. That’s not the case. I am frustrated.”
Fire Chief Kevin Weinberger said the department has been asking for updated response times on a weekly basis since December.
“At the fire department, we are meeting all of our response times,” he said.
“AHS has been invited to council meetings and has declined.”
City manager Paul Schulz said he is hoping to set up a meeting with AHS officials in the next couple of weeks.
In order to bring ambulance service back under the control of the City, the municipality would have to buy four ambulances and employ 42 staff. The service would have to be separate from the fire department. Staff could be dual trained but can only be utilized to assist at large fire incidents when staff is off duty, at overtime rates, and would cause a delay in response
“Airdrie staff and fleet may become a resource pool for AHS as the City of Airdrie will have no control in how resources are deployed or managed on a daily basis,” she said.
“Currently AHS is experiencing difficulty in hiring trained paramedic staff and enrolment into EMS programs has declined,” said Masson.
“We are uncertain of our success in acquiring 40 staff.”
In 2009, under the AHS contract, ambulance service cost $740,616. It is anticipated that a return to ambulance service would cost about $1.36 million annually now as well as a startup cost of $2.9 million. It would take a minimum of six months to become operational, said Masson.
“While the City of Airdre’s goal is to improve the level of ambulance service provided to our citizens, the return to a contract relationship with AHS has a significant impact,” she said.
“This would result in a 9.2 per cent tax increase if alternative funding could not be found.”
Council voted to continue to run the Airdrie Fire Department as a standalone fire service.
“While this provides no guarantee on ambulance service levels by AHS, there is limited financial impact to the taxpayer,” said Masson.