January 18th, 2021

Rally calls on minister to overturn AHS EMS dispatch decision

By Jensen, Randy on September 25, 2020.

Alberta NDP leader Rachel Notley speaks during a press conference Thursday at the Lethbridge fire headquarters calling on Health Minister Tyler Shandro to overturn a decision on centralizing EMS dispatch. Herald photo by Ian Martens @IMartensHerald

Tim Kalinowski

Lethbridge Herald


NDP Official Opposition leader Rachel Notley joined Deputy Chief of Lethbridge Fire and Emergency Services Kelly L’Hirondelle, International Association of Fire Fighters Local 237 President Warren Nelson and concerned local citizen Earl Barton at Fire Headquarters on Thursday in calling on Minister of Health Tyler Shandro to overturn an Alberta Health Services decision to cancel its local EMS dispatch contract with the City of Lethbridge.

Notley said this was clearly a non-partisan issue which four previous health ministers from both the former Progressive Conservative and NDP governments all overturned.

“When Lethbridge residents call for emergency help they have the right to expect that help will get to them quickly,” Notley said. “And that is what is happening right now thanks to the skill and professionalism of Lethbridge Fire and Emergency Services, which has served this area as an integrated service for 108 years.

“Every few years Alberta Health Services approaches a new minister and tries to sell them on the idea that dispatch work should be moved out of these localized centres in Lethbridge, Wood Buffalo, Red Deer and Calgary, and into the AHS dispatch (centre),” she added. “In my experience as premier, I have also heard this pitch to our government in 2016. My Health Minister, Sarah Hoffman, and I looked at their evidence and their projected cost savings, and we said, ‘No.’

“There is no evidence this will improve service, and there is a real chance it will make services worse. And all to save a very small amount of money. We concluded it just wasn’t worth it to roll the dice on such a critical system with the lives of Albertans.”

L’Hirondelle, filling in for Chief Marc Rathwell who was up in Edmonton for a meeting on the issue with Shandro, reiterated that the current integrated dispatch service is the most efficient and vital life-saving system for Lethbridge, and for all surrounding communities when seconds count.

“I think it is pretty easy to see that the City of Lethbridge and the Lethbridge Fire and Emergency Services, our partner municipalities and the province, believe we have the same goals when it comes to emergency services,” he said. “First and foremost that is the best possible patient outcomes, being financially effective in our community, and operationally effective as well. I believe that is something our department and our city has done for over 100 years.”

He stressed if the discontinuation of local EMS integrated dispatch goes forward as proposed that patient outcomes will suffer.

Nelson pressed this point even more emphatically.

“The concern of all of our members of the department is this is going to ultimately cost citizen lives,” he stated. “It is jeopardizing the safety of the citizens within this community and area.”

Lethbridge resident Earl Barton related a personal story illustrating exactly what Nelson had stated in terms of timely response and saving lives. When his wife fell ill, he said, it was a Lethbridge fire truck which showed up first on scene with its specially trained fire paramedics to help after he dialed 911 and connected with local EMS dispatch. He was told all the ambulances were tied up at the time of his call and, Barton recalled, the nearest one didn’t arrive until a full 15 minutes later. He credited that first fire crew on the scene with stabilizing his wife enough to get her to hospital alive.

“This system works,” Barton stated. “I don’t understand why Alberta Health Services is doing what it is doing. Personally, I think every citizen in this town should stand up and say, ‘No.’

A joint statement released by Mayor Chris Spearman and Mayors Veer of Red Deer, Nenshi of Calgary, and Scott of the RM of Wood Buffalo, all of which have had their local dispatch contracts cancelled by AHS earlier this summer, indicated some cautious optimism Shandro and Tracy Allard of Municipal Affairs were receptive to their plea to have the AHS decision overturned, as previous Alberta governments have done, during a high-level meeting held between all parties on Thursday.

“When it comes to emergency services, the goal of our municipalities – and I believe the Province of Alberta – is to provide excellent patient outcomes using the most efficient system possible,” Spearman said in a release. “Today 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 that they now understand the consequences of this decision and the ministers will come to the same conclusion as those before them – it does not make sense to remove EMS dispatch from our communities.”

Shandro said it was a good meeting and he will consider what the mayors have told him.

“I think consolidating ambulance dispatch into AHS makes sense. It will make the system work better and save money that we’ll reinvest in the health system,” Shandro said Thursday in an email.

“Most importantly, the evidence I’ve seen shows it won’t change response times or cause delays for ambulances or other first responders. But I respect the mayors’ concerns and the information they shared, and I committed to them that we’ll review their concerns and get back to them before the transition begins.”

– With files from The Canadian Press

Follow @TimKalHerald on Twitter

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