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Wednesday, 02 October 2013 13:16

Rural Alberta ambulance system in crisis

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It’s been nearly five years since the PC government began centralizing ambulance services away from municipalities and the front lines and it has been a disaster in rural communities ever since.


Patients in communities across Alberta are certainly feeling the impact, where local ambulances are called out of the region, leaving entire communities underserved and vulnerable to risk.
In Pincher Creek, response times for patients in need of urgent care spiked to almost 30 minutes at the end of 2012. In Airdrie, response times decreased 33 per cent after the city’s integrated service was dissolved in 2010. 
In the spring, the Health Quality Council of Alberta released a report saying that changes in EMS services resulted in a loss of local community knowledge, a culture of mistrust and a perceived lack of resources to meet the needs of Albertans.
Further, the Association of Municipal Districts and Counties (AAMD&C) in a report to members in March 2013, cited several areas of concern that remained to be addressed by Alberta Health Services (AHS) as listed by the Health Quality Council.
So far, the Health Minister’s only solution to this ongoing crisis is to continue consolidation of dispatch services across the province.
Many municipalities disagree. Desperately seeking  a solution, several municipalities have banded together and have formed a Partnership for Rural Emergency Direction and have produced a report release in February 2013 (www.ruralcommunityfirst responders.com). That document provides a thorough review of the current situation now provided by AHS and strongly advocates for changes in the current system, particularly in the “Centralized Dispatch” and “Inter Facility Transfer” subject areas.
Locally in another report (Suburban Rural EMS Deployment Review) by frontline EMS Southern Alberta member George Porter, 14 issues of concern were noted with the current system. This report clearly points out that under the new rules, it is not unusual for a patient in an emergency situation to be waiting for an ambulance that is tied up as a taxi for someone in another community for less than urgent reasons. It is clear emergency rooms in our province are often clogged — barely half of patients will be admitted into the ER within the province’s own  eight-hour benchmark — plus our EMS workers are left totally frustrated and immobile as they wait for patients to be admitted. The report also includes  21 clear recommendations for improvement..  
With these critical services at risk in communities across the province, it’s time to act. It’s time to give our frontline workers the resources they need to crack down on wait times in our ERs. It’s time to ensure we stop the practice, where possible, of using ambulances as taxis and it’s time to give municipalities the freedom to contract and choose the best ambulance service for their local needs, instead of being dictated to from the Province.
As an MLA in Southern Alberta, these are the ideas that I will continue to bring to the government, and I can assure you, we will fight tirelessly to put Albertans first and fix these critical services we all rely on.
Pat Stier, MLA Livingstone-Macleod

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