Calgary Mayor Jyoti Gondek said the recent death of an elderly woman and the related EMS response shows the province’s decision to consolidate EMS dispatch “was a fatal mistake.”
Alberta Health Services, however, said the response wasn’t related to EMS dispatch consolidation. Still, they’re launching an independent investigation into their handling of the incident.
An 86-year-old woman died after being attacked Sunday outside her Capitol Hill home in Calgary’s northwest. Three dogs, which are still being held pending an ongoing investigation, are allegedly responsible for the attack.
According to AHS, the initial call came into EMS dispatch from Calgary 911 with a request to attend a dog bite incident.
“Based off those details and initial call between the City of Calgary dispatch, and our EMS dispatch, it was deemed to be non-life-threatening with time,” said Mauro Chies, interim AHS president and CEO.
According to Chies, AHS EMS dispatch determines if the call is life-threatening, based on the information provided.
They received a second call, and at that time they were told the injuries were very serious and EMS was required. The ambulance was dispatched and arrived between nine and 10 minutes later, Chies said.
Chies announced the independent review of EMS response. It’s expected to take four months and the findings will be made public. He said other partner agencies will be invited to take part in the review as well.
“I would like to express my deep condolences to the family, friends and neighbours of Betty Ann Williams,” Chies said.
“This was a tragic death and the thoughts of all of us at AHS are with Betty Ann’s loved ones.”
‘How about we take a look at the dispatch system?’ Mayor Jyoti Gondek
Mayor Gondek said when she read stories about the guilt felt by Williams’ neighbour who was also the initial 911 caller, it broke her heart.
“Not only do we have this tragic death, but the woman that called in is being blamed for her calling in and not accurately describing the incident,” the mayor said.
“We’re going to revictimize this person who did the responsible thing? Unbelievable. How about we take a look at the dispatch system?”
Chies did say during Thursday’s media availability that they don’t blame the initial 911 caller in any way. They appreciated her working as hard as she could to help her neighbour and Chies said they would be willing to speak directly with her about it.
Still, Mayor Gondek said this is a clear indication the consolidated system isn’t working.
Calgary fought the AHS EMS consolidation for several years. AHS pressed ahead in 2020 with the final pieces of consolidation. This meant that previously same location dispatch teams would be split up and require an additional re-routing call to connect Calgary 911 with AHS EMS dispatch.
It was met at the time with heavy resistance from then-mayor Naheed Nenshi and the leaders of Lethbridge, Red Deer and Fort McMurray – Wood Buffalo.
Mayor Gondek said they told the province incidents like this would happen as a result.
She said the people who called are traumatized, as are those first responders who attended the call.
Further, she said, a life is gone.
“Let’s maybe get smart about the fact that taking dispatch the route that the province did was a fatal mistake.”
The independent review will look at a variety of circumstances, including ambulance availability, communications and other factors.