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EMS dispatch: Alberta mayors stand firm in opposition to consolidation

The four mayors opposed to Alberta’s EMS dispatch consolidation remain defiant, now pleading for Premier Jason Kenney to get involved in the dispute.

In a virtual news conference based in Red Deer, the mayors coordinated their message that the province’s decision to consolidate EMS dispatch with Alberta Health Services will significantly impact patient outcomes.

They believe adding an additional 200,000 EMS calls to three call centres annually will lengthen dispatch times for ambulances. They say it will result in dropped calls and emergency vehicles being delayed.

RELATED: 911 – Why Calgary opposes the EMS dispatch change

“We know that the longer that it takes for an ambulance to be dispatched, the worse it is for patient outcomes, especially in life and death circumstances where seconds are absolutely critical,” said Red Deer Mayor Tara Veer.

“We would like to go on public record that we strongly oppose this irresponsible decision.”

Each of the mayors went through how it would impact their area and both Lethbridge and Wood Buffalo shared statistics that showed substantially faster dispatch times than current consolidated AHS dispatch times.

Veer also said that right now, AHS isn’t even meeting their own standard for dispatch times, let alone when they add in this volume of calls.

Mayor Nenshi said they’re not done talking about this

Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi said that they were “shocked and disappointed” to get the letter from Alberta Health Minister Tyler Shandro Oct. 16. He thought the conversations were ongoing.

“In fact, the City of Calgary has requested actual data from AHS that they’ve been using to justify this decision for some weeks now,” said Mayor Nenshi.

“We received it on Monday after the minister had sent us his letter, and with the caveat that it could not be shared with the public. It could not be shared with the taxpayers, who pay for it, and who are served by it.”

That data was requested after a special meeting of Calgary city council to address the EMS dispatch issue.

He said he was hopeful that was a misunderstanding and they’d be able to share it widely.

“But I suspect they’re nervous because it doesn’t tell the story that they’ve been telling, which is that this will somehow improve patient outcomes when we know and have plenty of evidence that it will not,” he said.

Mayor Nenshi said that the AHS Chief Paramedic Darren Sandbeck accepted an invitation to council for Nov. 2. At that time, they’re hoping to address the data.

Concerns refuted in letter

Many of the concerns brought up by the mayors were addressed in Minister Shandro’s five-page letter.

In it, he highlighted what Chief Sandbeck had said in the past about the consolidated more.

“A province-wide EMS dispatch system will improve patient care through more efficient coordination of all EMS resources, which allows EMS to send the closest available ambulance to a patient regardless of geographic boundaries,” the letter read.

Minister Shandro also addressed lack of consultation. Mayor Veer said in Tuesday’s conference that they’d had virtually no consultation. They were able to present their case to the province back in September.

Minister Shandro said that Sandbeck had seen the presentation before.

“Regardless, I believed the way to resolve this concern was to make sure that all four municipalities has the opportunity to meet and share feedback,” the letter read.

Concerns over First Nations response, mutual aid agreements and the idea of an integrated model was also referenced in the letter to mayors.

On Tuesday, AHS also launched an FAQ on the EMS dispatch changes.

Next step: Premier’s office

Mayor Nenshi said the EMS issue was broached during a meeting with Premier Jason Kenney two weeks ago. The Premier wasn’t entirely up to speed on the proposed change but committed to learning more.

“We’re appealing to the premier now, because it’s clear Minister Shandro is not interested in the conversation,” said Mayor Nenshi.

“He’s not interested in working with us any further on this, and we hope that the premier will step up to protect patients in this province.”

Mayor Veer said that she hopes Premier Kenney listens to the local concerns.

“The premier has on prior occasion gone on public record with municipalities, indicating that he would work with our cities to ensure effective delivery of local services,” she said.

“Keeping the current integrated municipal dispatch model, it reduces red tape, it saves money, but most importantly, above every other reason, it saves lives by delivering emergency ambulance care faster than what AHS can provide alone.”