Local MLA against ambulance consolidation
The provincial government released the Health Quality Council of Alberta’s report on ground ambulance services on March 4, calling for recommendations including completion of the provincial consolidation of EMS dispatch.
However, Airdrie MLA Rob Anderson (Wildrose) is adamantly opposed to the alliance.
“Stop this folly of centralizing everything ... because it was a bad idea to begin with and it’s still a bad idea,” said Anderson.
“Our wait times for ambulances are much higher now that Alberta Health Services (AHS) has taken it over (in July 2010). The idea that you could have bureaucracy in Edmonton managing our emergency services in Airdrie is not practical and doesn’t lead to increased patient safety for our community and that’s unacceptable.”
In March 2011, AHS representatives reported that response times increased about 34 per cent from the time of consolidation, despite a 12 per cent decrease in call volume.
According to AHS, the median response time in Airdrie for life-threatening events in January 2013 was just under 10 minutes, slightly less than the previous year. Last year’s statistics were compiled just before the new ambulance station, located at Bethany Care Centre, opened in February 2012.
One of the recommendations of the report is to establish a single source of EMS data, linking it with other health-care databases.
“Prior to bringing EMS under the health system, we didn’t have data for all of the locations in the province and the data that we did have, a lot of it was collected differently,” said Alberta Health Minister Fred Horne. “That’s what made it difficult for the health quality council to actually compare response times.”
Horne said the data is critical to assess the system’s performance, adding the only way to get these details is by centralizing dispatching services.
Elisabeth Ballerman, the president of the Health Sciences Association of Alberta, which represents 23,000 paramedical technical, professional and general support employees in the health-care sectors, said she agrees with the idea of a centralized dispatch centre.
“Sometimes the dispatch centres can’t talk to each other, they can’t talk to the ambulances that they are not dispatching so it makes sense to me,” she said.
“I can see that it makes sense to do the consolidation (as opposed to) having a whole bunch of different dispatch centres.”
Horne explained the consolidation will not come at the cost of services in rural areas.
“One of the concerns in rural and remote areas is sometimes places aren’t known by a set of coordinates,” he said.
The central dispatch centre can hone in on exact locations from common-place names.
Horne added that improved communication systems will allow fire, police and EMS to communicate with one another.
“This would make it possible for an ambulance responding to a remote area to talk to local police and firefighters on a common radio system,” he said.
However, that isn’t the case everywhere, according to Ballerman.
“I hear from some of our northern EMS workers that they don’t even have communications equipment in the ambulances,” she said. “They have to use their personal cell phones to do the work.”
She said the Province has acknowledged some EMS concerns about the workers’ ability to respond in a timely manner and communities being left without ambulances when they are forced to cover other communities but the report does not suggest solutions to these problems.
To view the report in its entirety, go to health.alberta.ca