January 22nd, 2021

Dispatch consolidation a concern, SACPA told

By Woodard, Dale on September 5, 2020.

An ambulance makes its way through downtown on Friday afternoon. Herald photo by Ian Martens @IMartensHerald

Dale Woodard

Lethbridge Herald

Delayed response times and a lack of familiarity of the area are a local concern following Alberta Health Services recent announcement that ambulance dispatch services will be consolidated across the province, pulling Calgary, Lethbridge, Red Deer and Wood Buffalo into existing Emergency Medical Services dispatch centres.

Speaking at the opening session of the 53rd season Southern Alberta Council on Public Affairs Thursday, guest speaker and president of the International Association of Fire Fighters’ Local 237 Warren Nelson felt critical extra time and unfamiliarity with the city layout could compromise efficient service for southern Albertans.

LFD has several concerns with AHS’s Emergency Medical Services decision to remove local EMS dispatch from Lethbridge and move it to Calgary, feeling it will create delays in dispatching of fire units that also provide advanced life support to citizens.

When a call comes in, the 911 caller will still get a municipal dispatcher here, said Nelson, who has been with the Lethbridge Fire Department for 22 years.

“They will ask what service is needed: police, fire or EMS. If they say EMS they have to transfer that call to an AHS 911 dispatcher, which will be in Calgary. That dispatcher will dispatch one of the ambulances, and at this time it is still a Lethbridge Fire Department unit that is being contracted to AHS-EMS. So they will be dispatching one of our own units to a location in the area. If that EMS unit requires fire or police, they have to contact the municipal 911 dispatcher who then will dispatch fire. Or if it’s a motor vehicle accident they might need both fire and police, they have to contact the municipal 911 dispatcher and then they will dispatch the appropriate further response.

“If it was back the other way that same dispatcher could screen the call, realize it’s not just an EMS call, it’s both fire and EMS or they need police and right away and it’s given to the other dispatcher within our single dispatch centre to continue the call.”

A general knowledge of the city and its layout is another concern.

“So often dispatchers get calls and somebody is out for a walk and has no idea where they are,” said Nelson. “They’ll say they’re at the dog run. Lethbridge has three large dog runs. Somebody is Calgary is not going to have an idea which dog run they’re at, they’ll just send an ambulance. Everybody here probably knows that our city is so spread out and it’s a long way from the northside dog run to the one on the southside or the westside. Or they’re at the park with the big lake on it. Is that Henderson or Nicholas Sheran?

“Unless it’s a specific address the dispatchers in Calgary are not going to know which unit to send, let alone exactly where to go. Our dispatchers are all familiar with the city. They live here. They know if you’re in a park and can see the water tower, that’s Henderson Lake.”

Nelson said they’re requesting concerned people to contact Lethbridge MLA East Nathan Neudorf at (403) 320-1011 or email Lethbridge.East@assembly.ab.ca.

They can also contact Health Minister Tyler Shandro at (403) 640-1363 or email at Calgary.Acadia@assembly.ab.ca.

“There have been moves to consolidate EMS each time in the past and each time the health minister looked at it and said ‘no’. For these particular services it makes sense to keep them separate,” said Nelson. “That’s what we’re asking Health Minister Shandro to do.”

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Here are some facts for you that show, after ten years of the Foothills Regional Dispatch having their EMS dispatch ripped from them, the costs are much higher, the services have been degraded and lives are probably been lost due to the unresovled issues promised by AHS a long time ago.
These strong arm tactics are something you see in China or Russia, not in a democracy and this UCP fails to listen to the very people that put them in office . . . time for change!
Read some of the details listed below taken from this letter from the Foothills Regional Emergency Services Commission (FRESC) dated May 21, 2020:
Additional details – https://www.fixrural911dispatch.com/
The COST of “Fragmented Dispatch”

  • Lives are being lost and continue to be at risk.
  • Duplication of services = cost to taxpayers, twice.
  • Extremely expensive costs for AHS – Southern Communications Center (SCC).
  • Cost Savings can be achieved by supporting existing, experienced 911 Call Centers.

AHS EMS dispatch centers are redundant

  • FRESC 911 Center provides 911 and dispatch services to 117,000 Alberta residents since 1994.
  • Other established, accredited 911 Centers provide service throughout Alberta.
  • Why would we duplicate the service when EMS dispatch fits in these centers?

AHS EMS dispatch centers are expensive

  • The SCC is costing Albertans more at a time when the Province can’t afford it.
  • Satellite centers save money because you physical infrastructure is already there: facilities, networks, radio

           equipment, etc.

  • With the decision to allow some centers to retain EMS dispatch, it makes sense to choose a better solution

           with economic benefits – returning EMS dispatch to FRESC and other 911 Centers is more cost effective.

  • There will also be significant savings in staffing because Supervisory staff, Quality Assurance staff and

           Operational Management staff are in place in every 911 center – eliminate duplication.

What are the costs to operate the AHS South Communications Center (SCC)?

  • No published budget for this center.
  • $13 million has been invested just to move the SCC to its current location – a waste of taxpayer dollars when

           the facility is redundant.

  • Note: The SCC has an inter-facility ambulance transfer function independent of the EMS dispatch function?
  • Population served?
  • Facility costs of $61,000 per month; $732,000 annually? (2017 news source)
  • SCC – 30 staff members – salaries, benefits, etc., estimated 3.1 million?
  • Almost $4 million for just facility and staff. What about other operational and capital equipment costs?
  • Operational budget and financial information have been requested but are unavailable.
  • NG911 will be very expensive and is another example of an unnecessary duplication of infrastructure.

They say they are trying to save $6 million across the province, but they have already blown 3 times that already!
The Premier buries his head and states we have no authority over AHS, they are autonomous . . . while promising in 2017 to stop this centralization of EMS dispatch services. Some people are saying the NDP did this . . . how when it began over 10 years ago?
This is bad for Lethbridge, bad for the province and the taxpayer once again bends over for yet another fiasco that is forced on all of us! The SCS cost taxpayers close to $25 million in this city when you include all of the added services that were needed to compensate the impact. The SCS alone was over $16 million, but added policing, EMS/fire responses, social services and housing costs and lets not forget the motel/lodge that was leased to house the addicts requiring isolation under COVID for several months, along with the LSCO being take over as additional shelter housing.
That was another AHS operation, an experiment that cost this city it’s reputation internationally and the livelihoods of many citizens who had businesses in the downtown core!
This government is out of control!!!
Wake up everyone . . . this is being pushed ahead against our wishes and there is plenty of evidence to prove it cost more, but more importantly, will cost more lives!
Is this the push to privatize EMS and the AHS . . . it can’t be to save money or lives!