By Lethbridge Herald on October 20, 2020.
The mayors of Calgary, Red Deer, Wood Buffalo and Lethbridge are calling on Premier Jason Kenney to personally intervene to re-examine a decision by his Minister of Health Tyler Shandro to allow EMS consolidated dispatch to move forward in Alberta.
“We would like to go on public record that we strongly oppose this irresponsible decision,” said Red Deer Mayor Tara Veer on behalf of all four mayors. “On behalf of our cities and regions, as mayors, we remain absolutely resolute in opposition. This decision on the part of the Minister of Health compromises the health and safety not just for the 43 per cent of Albertans we collectively represent, but all Albertans.”
Veer pointed out this decision would impact the health and safety of every Albertan as 200,000 additional calls would now be fielded by just three dispatch centres for the entire province.
“These three call centres are not even meeting their own standards (90 seconds dispatch time),” she pointed out, let alone the new volume which will flood them once consolidation goes forward.
“This is not a partisan issue,” she added. “It’s an issue of life and death.”
Mayor Chris Spearman added his appeal to Veer’s — that Kenney bring the issue to cabinet or, alternatively, the government provide a third-party review of the AHS decision which takes into account the point of view of both AHS and the negatively impacted municipalities.
“I am going to appeal to the premier and the citizens of Alberta,” Spearman said. “To the MLAs and to the cabinet. As municipalities we believe the goals of both municipalities and the provincial government are the same. We want the best possible patient outcomes. We want financial efficiencies. And we want operational efficiencies. And we believe we are providing those.”
“Collectively, our municipalities have extensive experience providing EMS dispatch which results in excellent patient outcomes,” he added. “After just 16 months in office Minister Shandro has decided to throw all of that away without any consultation with municipalities. We continually asked for rationale or data to support the minister’s choice, and this was never provided prior to receiving his letter last week. The lack of transparency confirms this is a short-sighted and reckless decision.”
The mayors were asked by reporters how many job losses will occur because of this consolidation decision in their communities.
Veer pointed out 10 jobs would be lost in Red Deer. Mayor Naheed Nenshi of Calgary confirmed 45 jobs would be lost there. Mayor Don Scott of Wood Buffalo said it would affect four jobs in his community. And Spearman said 10 dispatch jobs would be lost in Lethbridge.
In order to offset this increased call volume, Shandro’s office said in a release to the media on Tuesday, AHS would add an additional 25 jobs in the southern Alberta dispatch centre to cover the needs of the City of Calgary, but that “increase in call volume from other municipalities is negligible and will not require new hires.”
In the same release, Shandro’s office stated it did not anticipate consolidation of EMS dispatch would meaningfully impact local EMS service and patient outcomes.
“Ambulance services in each community will continue to be delivered by the same local paramedics who provide the service today,” it reads. “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.”
“Albertans will notice no difference when they call 911,” it states in another place in the same release.
Contradicting this assertion, all four mayors, including Spearman, said there is absolutely no doubt Albertans will notice a difference if consolidation takes effect in January as planned and they have the statistics to prove it.
“We are very proud of the service we offer in the City of Lethbridge,” said Spearman. “We’re about 30 seconds faster right now than the consolidated EMS, and we want to maintain that level of service. Do Albertans? And does the premier of Alberta want to move to a consolidated system that doesn’t want to be accountable?
“This (AHS) is an organization that has refused to share their data publicly. We need to have services that are publicly accountable. We would like to continue the existing services and have all the data shared about consolidated dispatch response versus the satellite dispatch response. And Albertans should have all that information before the government makes a decision.”
Spearman said it was also time all local MLAs and cabinet ministers took a stand for their citizens, put partisanship aside, and let Kenney and Shandro know this decision is not in the best interests of their citizens.
“We ask the government of Alberta why they would want to continue down a path that has proven to deteriorate emergency services in our province?” he asked.
Spearman also called on all local citizens to make their voices heard loud and clear so those same MLAs and cabinet ministers across the province know this consolidation decision is an incorrect one.
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