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Non-urgent 911 EMS calls will be redirected to AHS Health Link nurses to free up ambulances

The province will direct non-urgent 911 calls directly to 811 Health Link in an effort to lower EMS calls response times in the province.

Health Minister Jason Copping announced the EMS-811 Shared Response program in Calgary on Thursday afternoon.

The province has been dealing with the ongoing challenge of improving EMS response for some time. Last month, the province released the results of an EMS

“Stepping down non-urgent 911 calls to Health Link, where clinically appropriate, began mid-January,” said Health Minister Jason Copping

“This shared response between EMS and 811 will help make sure more ambulances are available to respond to urgent 911 calls sooner.”

Minister Copping said that this system could divert up to 40,000 calls from EMS across Alberta annually.  

Since the province started the program Jan. 16 more than 1,000 calls were transferred to 811, according to Dr. Francois Belanger, vice-president and chief medical officer, Alberta Health Services.

“To see more than 1,000 calls transferred to 811 to get help and another more appropriate care environment is truly remarkable,” said Belanger.

“This will havea significant impact on our efforts to reduce EMS response time, reduce emergency department wait times and improve patient flow through the health system.”

According to the province, non-urgent calls make up between 10 and 20 per cent of calls to 911, area dependent, across Alberta. 

Calgary red alerts

On Wednesday, the Alberta NDP provided data that showed a big jump in the number of EMS red alerts in the Calgary area from 2019 to October 2022.  An EMS red alert means no ambulance is available to send to a new emergency.

They showed an average of 40 red alerts a month in April 2019, the data showed. By October 2022, that was up to an average of 400 per month in Calgary.

“That is a 10-fold increase of Calgary simply running out of paramedics and ambulances under this UCP government’s watch,” said Alberta NDP Official Opposition Leader, Rachel Notley.

The NDP said they would launch the biggest-ever recruitment effort for paramedics to deal with this challenge.

Dr. John Cowell, AHS chief administrator, said that this measure, coupled with the contracting out of inter-facility transfers, will make a substantial difference in freeing up ambulances.

“That’s just another tool that we’re implementing quite quickly to ensure that our ambulance fleet is using being used very effectively,” he said.

“Code reds will become a thing of the past because we will always have enough ambulances ready.”

The province said additional training would be available for those call evaluators taking the initial call. There is an ambulance dispatched at this time, according to Dr. Cowell, and the evaluation would continue.  If a caller is assessed as non-serious, they would be transferred via a dedicated line to Health Link nurses.

From there, any appropriate options for care will be provided. That could also mean the call could be returned back to EMS dispatch for an ambulance, AHS said.

This is an example of what an 811 EMS shared response call could sound like. COURTESY AHS