May 21st, 2024

Mayors warn Albertans of dangers of ending local EMS dispatch service

By Lethbridge Herald on January 9, 2021.

Tim Kalinowski
Lethbridge Herald
The mayors of Lethbridge, Wood Buffalo and Red Deer have jointly released a strongly worded letter to all Albertans highlighting dangers of allowing Alberta Health Services to end local EMS dispatch service in their communities when the current contract is terminated next week.

“We have been strongly advocating to the provincial government,” the letter, signed by Mayor Chris Spearman, Mayor Don Scott and Mayor Tara Veer, reads in part, “and engaging with Albertans on this issue because it is a matter of life and death, not just for the people in the communities we represent, but for every Albertan.

“The consolidation of ambulance dispatch means three potential emergency response changes for all Albertans,” it goes on to state. “The end of integrated emergency response (a partnership between fire and ambulance that Alberta was once a leader in). A degradation of emergency response (dispatch calls will take longer and fire medics will no longer be quickly dispatched to attend emergency scenes when ambulances are unavailable). (And) Albertans will be left to wonder what future emergency service changes will be on the heels of the imminent cuts to 911 ambulance dispatch.

Citing examples from other areas of the country where integrating EMS dispatch has led to tragic consequences, the letter pulls no punches on the perils of the impending change.

“The devastating consequences in other Canadian provinces should be enough to give our Premier, Cabinet and every Albertan pause,” it reads. “This can be stopped before it is too late. For our communities, this issue is not about politics, partisanship, or, as some have speculated, the money. It is not even about preserving the status quo, as we are willing to help the Province improve inefficiencies in this critical service. It is about life and death.”

The letter then highlights the life-saving benefits of integrated dispatch where a fire truck or ambulance can both respond to a medical emergency when seconds count.

“The importance of local, timely call answering is essential in emergencies,” the letter states. “Losing integrated dispatch means ultimately losing integrated emergency service response; there are Albertans alive today because fire medics responded when an ambulance was 15 to 20 minutes away. It does not make sense for fire medics to be at the fire station when they can be on an emergency call. Losing dispatch means that fire medics will not be immediately dispatched in critical emergencies. This unnecessary emergency healthcare cut will impact patient care.”

The letter references 39 testimonials from communities in Alberta who have said losing local dispatch in other centralization initiatives AHS has undertaken in the past, in their belief, has meant a degradation of service for their citizens in their communities.

“In the words of a fellow Alberta mayor whose community dispatch was consolidated into the provincial system in 2014,” the letter states, “‘We should have fought with you harder in 2013.’ In other words, had they known what was going to happen, instead of believing the appeasing assurances that emergency ambulance service would not degrade for their community, they would have done what we are doing now: sound the alarm.

“Our fellow Albertans, we want to unequivocally go on public record; this mistake is entirely preventable,” it emphasizes. “The experience of other Canadian provinces who consolidated dispatch proves that this change will fundamentally dismantle an integrated public service we once led the way in our federation on. Our communities implore our fellow Albertans to speak up, with us, before it is too late.”

To view the full letter online visit the Lethbridge Herald website at
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