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Alberta NDP pitches plan to address EMS ‘red alert’ ambulance shortages

The NDP are promising to come up with a solution to ambulance shortages in Alberta, but the union for EMS workers and a health care advocate are both saying the proposal is a short term solution at best.

Rachel Notley pledged on Tuesday to post EMS professionals in emergency rooms (ERs) who would care for up to three individuals waiting for admission.

Currently, EMS workers must stay with a patient at the ER until they are admitted. This can sometimes take hours, and it prevents workers from going out to answer other calls.

When too many EMS workers get tied up at hospitals waiting for their patients to be admitted, it can lead to “red alerts” which mean there are not enough ambulances on the road to deal with calls.

According to the AHS Frequently Asked Questions on the EMS Performance Dashboard (updated March 11, 2019), they said they don’t report specific “red alerts.”

“Red alerts are only measured in a few areas of the province, and are measured differently in each of those areas. Overall response times are amore robust indicator of how soon we areproviding service to patients,” the FAQ read.

Health Sciences Association of Alberta president Mike Parker, the head of the union representing EMS workers, said they welcome any measure that gets workers back on the streets and out of hospital hallways, but added this is not enough.

“What has been proposed is a short-term measure, not a solution to the very real problem of a shortage of EMS resources,” he said in a prepared statement. “Our members are already doubling up in hospital hallways to free up crews to go back on the road.”

He said that while the move would help, it would also increases the workload and stress on the EMS members still in the hospital who are left to care for patients.

Sandra Azocar, executive director of advocacy group Friends of Medicare, agrees that the NDP promise would be a good start, but called it a short term solution that doesn’t address the crux of the problem: lack of hospital beds.

“In the mid 90s, we closed half of our hospital beds from 13,000 to 6,500 and the population was 2.6 million,” she said. “In 2017 our population hit 4. 2 million and we only have 8, 448 acute care beds. That’s one hospital bed for every 507 Albertans.”

Azocar said part of the problem is that many beds are being used by seniors who have no other place in the system to go.

She said beyond adding beds, there are more efficient ways of operating.

“[We need] a better allocation of the existing resources and definitely a more integrated system where we make better use of our healthcare staff,” she said. “Not only do patients need to be seen by a doctor but they could be seen by a nurse practitioner.”