Show me the data: City pushes AHS to produce EMS dispatch information


Calgary city council gave an earful to AHS officials on the EMS dispatch consolidation Monday, two weeks after making a plea to premier Jason Kenney.

AHS Chief Paramedic Darren Sandbeck, AHS Vice President and Medical Director of Clinical Operations, Dr. Ted Braun, and Mark McKenzie, Medical Director, Air Ambulance, presented at the Combined Meeting of council Monday.

It was a meeting requested by the City of Calgary to get answers in public about the upcoming EMS dispatch consolidation. Mayor Nenshi and three other Alberta mayors stood firm against the Alberta government’s plan in an Oct. 20 press conference.

RELATED: 911 – Why Calgary opposes EMS dispatch changes

AHS Letter to the editor on 911 EMS dispatch changes

Braun and Sandbeck outlined the key message that calling 911 in Calgary will be no different after the transition. That’s scheduled for Jan. 1, 2021.  It will lead to a job loss of 45, and AHS will hire 25 people to handle the work in their system.

“People who call 911 will notice absolutely no change. Patient safety is at the core of every decision we make,” said Sandbeck.

“This includes our approach to dispatch of EMS services across Alberta.”

Calgary has raised concerns about interagency dispatch times as they’ve had police, fire and ambulance all under one roof.

Sandbeck and Braun said the process would essentially be the same, only routed through AHS EMS dispatch.

“The call is instead transferred to Alberta Health Services EMS emergency communication officer who uses the same tools and technologies that are in place today in our municipal satellite centers,” said Sandbeck.

Accurate data needed by the City of Calgary

City councillors picked apart everything from the choice timeframe of the EMS response chart, to a general lack of data available to them.

Not to mention the tenor of their presentation.

“It’s really unfortunate that this has become so politicized as we look at how to deliver emergency services on a go forward basis,” said Coun. Diane Colley-Urquhart, who opened council’s queries.

“Even the tone of this presentation today is somewhat offensive. It implies that the facts and the data that we’ve been presenting are all a myth.”

Data became a centrepoint of council’s concerns.

Mayor Nenshi grilled the AHS team on data they received when consolidation began in 2009. They asked specifically for Cochrane and Chestermere.

“I think that’s a critical piece of what’s missing here. You folks have asserted many, many times that response times did not change. But we’ve never seen any evidence of that,” Mayor Nenshi said.

The data they received from after waiting three weeks for a request on Chestermere and Cochrane was that, in some months, it took 14 minutes to notify the fire department that they’d be needed.  Mayor Nenshi said he pushed back on that data, “because it would be impossible for me to imagine AHS would do something like that.”

AHS said they would commit to a data conversation.

Coun. Gian Carlo Carra asked why it didn’t come today.

“Why are we not prepared with the full data set, not just a data set cherry picked from a certain period of time after there was a massive increase in response times,” he asked.

Data on the MFR calls from the fire department. AHS presentation

Fixing the wrong problem

Cou. Jeff Davison brought up the Code Reds and paramedics sitting in hospitals waiting for their patient to be taken in.

The Ward 6 councillor suggested that was a bigger problem. Instead, they’re trying to fix an EMS dispatch system that wasn’t broken. And a lack of public consultation on the issue shows.

“I think consultation would have likely shown and probably would have shown that we’re out trying to fix a problem that doesn’t exist,” he said.

The presentation was accepted for the public record by council.

About Darren Krause 1185 Articles
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  1. This is ridiculous politics. I can honestly say as a paramedic in Calgary for 20+ years, the present system with 2 dispatches is far less effective for paramedics, which should be the real focus. Firefighters first respond but have minimal training ie. first aid/cpr weekend course. The focus should be on getting the highly trained medical professionals to patients as efficiently as possible. Firefighters positively impact patient care in less than 1%of the calls they go on. They don’t even want to be there which i witness every day.
    AHS often lies and stretches the truth but in this case they are speaking the truth. ZERO benefit from keeping 2 dispatch systems. Being in the same dispatch center has proven to not expedite communications between departments. Medical and traumatic emergencies need paramedics not first aiders. 1 dispatch system for EMS is preferred by all paramedics. I can’t blame the mayor for fighting for jobs but 1 system is definitely more beneficial.

    • As a medical first responder here in Calgary I have done CPR on a patient for nine minutes and delivered three shocks before EMS arrived, that patient survived. I’m not a cardiologist, but fairly sure that without that nine minutes of effective CPR before EMS arrived the patient probably would not have made it. This was not an isolated case either.
      I’m sorry that you need to witness firefighters who “don’t even want to be there”. That is a whole other sort of problem. The simple truth is: Medical first responders are a vital link in the chain of survival. The best paramedic can’t do a damn thing for a patient who has been in V-fib and not breathing for nine minutes by the time they arrive.

      • Yes, I definitely agree 9min is far too long. That’s why more resources are needed for paramedics to get there sooner and that would be the most effective use of funds. I realize we’re talking municipal vs provincial but why would you not want a paramedic that brings Advanced Life Support there sooner? It’s just makes sense. No arguement here, CPR and early Defib are the gold standard in cardiac arrest and all first responders play an important role. I just see far more benefit to having paramedics bring the ER to your doorstep in a timely fashion which in cardiac arrests is essentially what happens. EMS is ridiculously underresourced, and while all first responders are integral in cardiac arrests, fire is only useful in a small % of calls, it’s not the solution for the ambulance shortages. Ems should be staffed and funded to lower response times under 7min to delta/echos.

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