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Claims that EMS dispatch outage related to consolidation ‘wildly inaccurate’: AHS Chief

The Chief paramedic for Alberta Health Services (AHS) said Alberta mayors shouldn’t attribute recent glitches in their computer-assisted dispatch (CAD) to the recent EMS consolidation.

AHS took over control of the EMS dispatch in Calgary on Jan. 26. Work had already begun in Lethbridge, Red Deer and the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo, after weeks of opposition from those area mayors.

Thirteen hours into the Calgary switch, the CAD system had an outage.

According to a letter from the mayors, sent to Premier Jason Kenney and Alberta Health Minister Tyler Shandro, the outage lasted 72 minutes (from 10:30 to 11:42 p.m.)  In that letter, the mayors requested an immediate third-party review of this recent dispatch failure.

Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi called the situation outrageous.

“We’ve been warning for months that regardless of whether or not this is a good idea to transition EMS, which it is not, regardless of whether it is a good idea, AHS needed to be prepared,” he told reporters in a virtual press conference on Monday.

The four mayors (clockwise from top left): Red Deer Mayor Tara Veer, Mayor Naheed Nenshi, Wood Buffalo Mayor Don Scott and Lethbridge Mayor Chris Spearman. SCREENSHOT

Mayor Nenshi said it was Calgary 911 dispatchers who initially caught on to the problem and initiated contact with the AHS dispatch. He said they believe as many as 25 calls may have been impacted by the communication outage.

“We know of one specific incident that resulted in a 16-minute delay before EMS was dispatched,” he said, later noting that a fire station a few hundred metres away.  

Mayor Nenshi acknowledged that CAD outages happen. That’s one of the benefits of having all emergency services in one room. That was one major sticking point with the cities. Multi-agency calls would have to be sent to AHS then re-routed back to fire or police.

Nenshi said they were promised these issues wouldn’t happen.

CAD outage would have had same impact without consolidation

AHS Chief paramedic Darren Sandbeck said Monday that the CAD outage had nothing to do with consolidation. He said the municipal dispatch systems would have been impacted in the exact same way with the outage.

“It is wildly inaccurate to list the outage to consolidation,” Sandbeck said.

Downtime procedures were initiated, Sandbeck said. All calls were answered and responded to in a timely manner.

He did acknowledge two calls – one to a Calgary continuing care site and another was a non-emergency call in Lac La Biche – that were delayed.

CAD outages happen in every system, he said.

Letter to Premier From Disp… by Darren Krause

“We are working closely with our vendor to find out why this outage occurred,” Sandbeck said.

He also addressed specifically a claim in northern Alberta. An injured snowmobiler waited for 32 minutes, despite a nearby fire department. Sandbeck explained that they have agreements with Alberta fire departments on which calls they attend. The fire department hadn’t agreed to attend that type of call.

Sandbeck said they continue to meet with municipalities around the transition, communicating problems that arise. He said that the City of Calgary hasn’t participated in any post-transition meetings.

But, Red Deer Mayor Tara Veer said the delayed response and the lack of communication around it are a problem. All four mayors echoed that sentiment.

“The real challenge for us is that we’re not seeing any willingness for Alberta Health Services to work with us to help resolve the problems. We keep supplying information to them, and never get a response back,” she said.

“This is not a system that’s bound for success.”