January 15th, 2021

Mayors ‘blindsided’ by AHS dispatch decision

By Jensen, Randy on August 6, 2020.

Tim Kalinowski

Lethbridge Herald


Mayor Chris Spearman presented a united front with Mayor Naheed Nenshi of Calgary, Mayor Tara Veer of Red Deer and Mayor Don Scott of Wood Buffalo in opposing the Alberta Health Services’ decision, announced on Tuesday with no consultation with affected communities, to discontinue satellite call centre operations in these four jurisdictions and consolidate them within the three existing AHS regional call centres.

“(Tuesday) morning four elected mayors received notification from a non-elected official of Alberta Health Services that they were changing ambulance dispatch services,” Spearman said in a statement to provincial media members on Wednesday. “We were blindsided. We are strongly opposed to this planned change to EMS dispatch. This change will jeopardize ambulance service and timely response to those who require it in Lethbridge and southwestern Alberta. In Lethbridge our integrated fire and EMS system saves money and serves patients with the earliest possible response.”

Spearman went on to state in Lethbridge a fire apparatus responded to EMS emergencies 29 per cent of the time in 2019, and thereby saved lives.

“Municipalities in Alberta value a system which is collaborative and accountable,” he said, “and we don’t think that will happen when it consolidates with AHS. The projected $6 million in cost savings (for AHS) identified with the Ernst and Young report (last year) do not take into account the additional expenses that will be incurred by municipalities. In the case of Lethbridge, we estimate these costs to be $2.89 million. In short, EMS dispatch consolidation was a bad idea when it was proposed in the past, and it is a bad idea now.”

Spearman explained the $2.89-million figure was what the City paid to subsidize AHS last year by dispatching fire apparatus for EMS calls to get to the scene faster and save more lives – money for which the City was not reimbursed.

It was the same with all four municipalities to varying degrees: AHS does not currently even cover the full cost of EMS service and dispatch in the communities as is, the mayors stated.

Spearman said nothing in the AHS announcement on Tuesday, or in its previous record of relatively poor response times from its regional dispatch centres, would suggest AHS was the most capable body to run dispatch service in Lethbridge, Red Deer, Wood Buffalo or Calgary, all of which have much better local response times, he said.

“We keep getting these flimsy reports and flimsy recommendations that all should be consolidated to one centre in Edmonton where people are not familiar with the geographical areas, not familiar with the communities, will not provide data on the effectiveness of their services, and will not share that, and will not be accountable,” Spearman stated. “They don’t deserve to run a consolidated service. And while we are running an effective one -that should be respected.”

Spearman then joined his colleagues in asking the Minister of Health to intervene and overturn the AHS decision as several previous health ministers have already done since 2009, when AHS first began proposing dispatch consolidation.

Wood Buffalo Mayor Don Scott, who was also serving as a provincial cabinet minister when then Health Minister Fred Horne rejected a similar proposal from AHS in 2013, said any potential savings for AHS in his community would be more than offset by the new costs Alberta Health Services would have to absorb to add more employees in its regional centres. Essentially, he said, Albertans will end up paying more under this consolidation scenario to get less in service for their tax dollars at the end of the day.

“It’s nonsense,” he said. “For our region the proposed savings of $660,000, it doesn’t make any financial sense. It is very obvious this decision should be reversed. It does not make any sense. Financially, it doesn’t make sense. And from a patient care perspective it makes absolutely no sense. It is going to provide worse outcomes for patients.”

Spearman echoed Scott’s criticisms.

“I think if our MLAs, and our minister of health, and the premier want to understand if EMS dispatch on a local basis is valued, they should come to our communities and talk to our citizens. I think there is going to be a huge backlash in the loss of service, and the degradation of service, when lives matter.”

Health Minister Tyler Shandro has agreed to meet with representatives of all four communities later this month to hear their concerns about the proposed EMS dispatch consolidation.

AHS gave all four communities 180 days notice of termination of their dispatch contracts on Tuesday.

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