By Lethbridge Herald on October 2, 2020.
ALBERTA HEALTH SERVICES
Recently AHS Emergency Medical Services (EMS) announced plans to consolidate EMS dispatch services. The work done by four municipally-run satellite sites — Calgary, Lethbridge, Red Deer and the Municipality of Wood Buffalo — will be consolidated into one of the three AHS EMS dispatch sites: the Northern Communications Centre (NCC, in Peace River), the Southern Communications Centre (SCC, in Calgary) and Central Communications Centre (CCC, in Edmonton).
EMS staff are currently engaging with each municipality to discuss process, timing and questions regarding the process. I would like to share some facts about the dispatch consolidation process. Patient safety is at the core of every decision we make at Alberta Health Services Emergency Medical Services. This includes our approach to dispatching EMS services across Alberta.
Moving to a provincial dispatch system provides several benefits, such as maintaining patient safety and ensuring consistency and sustainability of dispatch services across all communities. A borderless system complemented by a consolidated dispatch system provides improved medical oversight, greater efficiency and better co-ordination of all resources. It allows EMS to send the nearest, most appropriate resource to a patient regardless of any geographic boundaries.
Local 911 callers will notice no change when the dispatch process switches to the AHS EMS Communications Centres. When people call 911 today, calls are already electronically transferred to a dispatcher across the room to the appropriate agency, such as police, fire department or ambulance. When the transition is complete, calls will be transferred at the same touch of a button.
Ambulance services in each community will continue to be delivered by the same local paramedics who provide the service today. These local professionals know the streets, locations and neighbourhoods and will continue working with EMS dispatch to respond to any emergency in every local community. AHS uses mapping information and data provided by the municipalities; both AHS and municipal dispatchers have precisely the same information at their fingertips.
Fire departments who provide medical first response will continue to provide this response to the same types of 911 calls. This change in dispatch has no impact to medical first response.
The dispatch consolidation also maintains an integrated system — EMS, fire and police have a long tradition of working side by side to respond to emergencies. This continues now and always.
The consolidation of most of Alberta’s EMS dispatch happened nearly a decade ago. AHS already successfully and seamlessly dispatches ambulances for 60 per cent of the population of Alberta, including large centres like Edmonton and Medicine Hat. EMS calls are answered within 10 seconds, 95 per cent of the time and no calls to 911 have ever been left waiting.
We look forward to a productive working relationship with each municipality as we work to improve health care for all Albertans.
Darren Sandbeck, M.A., ACP, CHE, is Senior Provincial Director and Chief Paramedic, Alberta Health Services, based in Calgary.