January 16th, 2021

Mayors make case about EMS dispatch

By Herald on September 25, 2020.

Mayor Chris Spearman speaks with reporters Friday afternoon, a day after he and other Alberta mayors met with Health Minister Tyler Shandro regarding centralized EMS dispatch. Herald photo by Ian Martens @IMartensHerald

Dale Woodard
Lethbridge Herald
Centralizing EMS dispatch is not the way to go for the safety of Albertans.
That’s the message Lethbridge Mayor Chris Spearman and mayors of Calgary, Red Deer and Wood Buffalo hammered home to Minister of Health Tyler Shandro at a meeting Thursday in Edmonton.
With Alberta Health Services’ decision to cancel its local EMS dispatch contract with the City of Lethbridge and move dispatch work out of the four centres into an AHS dispatch centre, Spearman, Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi, Red Deer Mayor Tara Veer and Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo Mayor Don Scott made their case to Shandro and Minister of Municipal Affairs Tracy Allard for the integrated system.
“When it comes to emergency services, the goal of our municipality and, I believe, the province of Alberta is to provide excellent patient outcomes using the most efficient system possible,” said Spearman Friday afternoon at city hall. “(Thursday) we delivered evidence to the ministers that makes it very clear that these goals are being met with our current system and removing integrated EMS dispatch will threaten the safety and well-being of Albertans. My hope is they now understand the consequences of this decision and the ministers will come to the same conclusions as those before them. It doesn’t make sense to remove EMS dispatch and integrated service from our communities.”
Spearman said the presentation was a 32-page PowerPoint to the ministers in making their case for their current dispatch systems.
“We exploded the myths of what were coming from within Alberta Health Services that their service would be better than the service we already have. We gave specific examples of how the centralized service had failed us and we had a good, engaging session with the minister.”
Spearman said after the meeting Shandro thanked the mayors for the information and said he would consider it.
But a government statement afterward sent a mixed message.
“We’re disappointed with the media release that came out afterwards from his department that said consolidating ambulance dispatch makes sense,” said Spearman. “Minister Shandro never said that during the meeting with us. He said he would consider the information and would get back to us. So there are some mixed messages there. We want to collaborate with the Ministry of Health and with the Health Minister. We think we should be working together to provide the best system possible for Albertans. We think we have done what we needed to do and we want to continue the dialogue and make sure we provide the best service.”
Spearman noted knowledge of city layout and valuable response times under in an integrated system.
“About 20 per cent of our calls go to centralized dispatch now because our system us under capacity,” said Spearman. “Recently there was an incident at Henderson Lake Park where someone collapsed, they were unconscious and people called 911. When it was answered they said ‘Where are you?’”
Spearman said the callers indicated they were at Henderson Lake Park and were asked by dispatch what city that was as well as the physical address and street number.
“If it’s handled by EMS dispatch in Lethbridge, the folks in Lethbridge know,” said Spearman. “Similarly throughout the region our folks vacation and do day trips to the mountains, Waterton and Pincher Creek. They’re familiar with the local geography here. So we provide regional service as well and the people in our dispatch centre are familiar with the geography and we don’t lose valuable seconds when lives matter.”
No timeline has been set on when a decision will be made.
“We want to work with the province of Alberta and Alberta Health Services to provide the best service to Albertans,” said Spearman. “We want to be partners. We want to focus on the right solutions, like finding different ways to do inter-facility transfers so they don’t take ambulances out of the City of Lethbridge and the surrounding area.”
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