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Ambulance wait times put county residents at risk; MLAs

By: Sara Wilson

  |  Posted: Monday, Nov 25, 2013 11:53 am

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Local Wildrose MLAs are calling for the Alberta government to address rural ambulance wait times, which they say are “putting patients at risk.”

Olds-Didsbury-Three Hills MLA and former mayor of Beiseker, Bruce Rowe told the Rocky View Weekly he’s heard “horror stories” from rural residents having to wait up to an hour-and-a-half for an ambulance.

“We have been talking with the people in the seats of the ambulances,” he said.

“One told me that he got a call from dispatch for a patient suffering from chest pains and he was an hour-and-15 minutes away from the location, and they said that he was the closest ambulance.”

Rowe blames the government’s centralized approach to rural health care, and said if operations were to return to the local level, it could help with wait times.

“When I was the mayor of Beiseker, I sat on the Kneehill (health) board and we had a great system in place with great people on it,” he said.

Rowe claimed wait times with the local system at the time in 2011 – which included Beiseker, Linden and Kneehill - were in the 20 minute range to anywhere in the region.

Based on the stories from first responders, Rowe believes that rural patients are currently waiting longer for an ambulance to arrive under the new system.

According to Alberta Health Services (AHS), ambulance wait times are posted on their website and are public information.

As of the second quarter of 2013 (May to August 2013), the response times for life-threatening events – which is defined as Delta or Echo calls to 9-1-1 – in Chestermere were under 15 minutes, for Cochrane they were under 10 minutes and Airdrie patients can expect to wait under 10 minutes as well.

“In life-threatening cases, we respond as quickly as possible. It’s inevitable that response times to isolated rural locations will be longer than in cities, but response times over 30 minutes are very rare,” said Rick Trimp, interim chief executive officer for Population Health and Provincewide Services, Alberta Health Services. “In addition to ground ambulances, we have many resources to ensure a rapid response including STARS helicopters, air ambulance planes and local medical first responders. The move to one coordinated dispatch system for the province also helps us improve response times, by locating the closest ambulance resource and sending it immediately to an emergency.”

According to the Official Opposition, all across southern Alberta, ambulance wait times can average anywhere from a half-hour to an hour.

“This is not what Albertans expect,” Wildrose Edmonton MLA Pat Stier said.

“For a farmer who collapses in his field, a half-hour to an hour means the difference between life and death. We had a system that worked before this government began to meddle. Now, Minister Horne’s ignoring the problem when it’s his responsibility to fix it.”


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