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EMS workers raise concerns about ambulance service

By: Stacie Snow

  |  Posted: Wednesday, Mar 14, 2012 01:43 pm

Local firefighters and EMS workers transport an injured worker from the site of a construction accident, Jan. 10. The EMS workers union released a report last week raising concerns about the service since the province assumed control in 2010.
Local firefighters and EMS workers transport an injured worker from the site of a construction accident, Jan. 10. The EMS workers union released a report last week raising concerns about the service since the province assumed control in 2010.
RVP File Photo

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Emergency Medical Services (EMS) workers’ concerns regarding front-line service are falling on deaf ears, according to a recent survey.

The study conducted by the Health Sciences Association of Alberta (HSAA), details that 89.3 per cent of EMS workers in the suburban zone, which includes Airdrie, feel there are not adequate resources to provide appropriate service to the general public.

“EMS workers are not simply ambulance drivers,” said Elisabeth Ballermann, president of HSAA. “These men and women are health care professionals who perform sophisticated procedures that keep people alive. They are proud of the services that they provide and are frustrated at not being able to do their jobs because of poor management practices.”

The HSAA is a union that represents 22,000 Alberta health care professionals. Results of the survey, along with a report on its findings, were released March 2.

“Our EMS practitioners are taught that excellent patient care is always the No. 1 priority,” states the report. “At the moment, some of our respondents feel that EMS is not even close to meeting that objective. Actually, some of our respondents indicated that it is driving them to leave the profession all together.”

About 84 per cent of respondents in the suburban zone indicated they have issues with the ambulance or the equipment of the ambulance.

Fifty-seven per cent of respondents in the Rural/Non Metro category, which includes the suburban zone, said they were seriously considering seeking employment elsewhere.

About 71 per cent of EMS workers think that dispatch has deteriorated since Alberta Health Services (AHS) took over EMS in 2010.

“There seems to be a general consensus among our respondents that the dispatch system has deteriorated since AHS became responsible for EMS in large part because dispatchers have very little or no knowledge at all of the area under their purview,” states the report.

The survey also shows that EMS workers are highly frustrated with their managers.

Workers feel management treats them with little respect and fail to address the front-line issues they raise.

New management practices that have been implemented since AHS took over EMS operations have left a wake of communication problems and given rise to regular mistreatment of members, according to the survey’s findings.

“Alberta’s EMS system is experiencing critical problems that are widespread,” said Ballermann.

“On the heels of a survey of our members in Edmonton last November, we conducted a survey of Emergency Medical Services personnel in Metro Calgary, Rural/Non Metro areas and Inter-Facility Transfers,” said Ballermann.

“What we discovered was that the low morale due to lack of resources (of both staff and equipment), poor management practices and backups in the rest of the health care system, which our Edmonton members experienced, was shared by their co-workers across the province.”

Alberta Health Services communications staff declined to comment on the survey.

Provincial review

On Feb. 28, the Alberta government announced it will review EMS.

The review will look into:

• transition issues related to the transfer of governances and funding from ground EMS from municipalities to the former regional health authorities and Alberta Health Services,

• dispatch consolidation,

• problems specific to integrated fire/EMS service providers,

• challenges specific to rural and remote areas of the province, and

• availability and adequacy of data on EMS.

In addition, the Province has committed to launching a public inquiry into political interference in the health system.

However, the inquiry will not look into allegations of physician intimidation, which were recently confirmed by a Health Quality Council of Alberta (HQCA) report.

“Premier Redford has delivered on her commitment for a public inquiry,” said provincial Minister of Health and Wellness Fred Horne.

“As we have always said, it was important to wait for the HQCA to finish its work before calling the public inquiry as the report provided context for decisions about the next steps. We will proceed with the public inquiry and the review of EMS even though the HQCA report did not call for these actions. These are important steps in continuing to improve public confidence in the health care system.”

Ballermann said immediate action is required.

“The review of EMS that Minister Horne announced earlier… is welcomed. We know that it will confirm what we have been saying for some time now,” said Ballermann.

“But launching a review is in no way an acceptable excuse for taking no action now. Waiting for the results of a review will do nothing to help the Albertan suffering from a heart attack get to the emergency more quickly. In our business, minutes lost mean that patients will spend much more time in recovery, if they are fortunate enough to make it to the hospital.”


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