By Lethbridge Herald on January 12, 2021.
Mayor Chris Spearman called for Health Minister Tyler Shandro to be turfed by Premier Kenney over his lack of understanding of the life-saving nature of integrated EMS dispatch in Lethbridge, and three other municipalities, impacted by an Alberta Health Services plan to scrap local EMS dispatch when the current contract ends today.
“I am very concerned this Health Minister is not listening to Albertans on a series of important issues related to health,” Spearman stated in a press conference alongside the mayors of Calgary, the RM of Wood Buffalo and Red Deer on Monday.
“In this case when seconds matter, when lives are at stake, we have a minister who is ignoring the best practice, and choosing to impose a system bureaucrats have long desired, which is not in the interests of Albertans. My appeal is to Premier Kenney. Overrule your health minister or change the health minister. He is not listening to Albertans.”
Spearman reiterated his previous criticisms of Alberta Health Services’ plans to take over ambulance response at call centres located nowhere near Lethbridge, without regard to the potential cost in local lives lost.
“Siloing EMS dispatch and separating it from the other emergency services will result in fragmented patient services and poor patient outcomes,” he said. “Minister Shandro has consistently failed to address this issue and has not demonstrated he understands it. The decision to proceed with EMS dispatch consolidation is a reckless one that will jeopardize patient outcomes. Our municipalities have spent four months trying to work with our provincial government on this issue. There has been no indication from Minister Shandro, or this provincial government, that they wish to work with municipalities. And our appeal to Premier Kenney appears to have fallen on deaf ears.”
Three of the impacted municipalities, Lethbidge, Red Deer and Wood Buffalo, had offered to take over the cost of maintaining EMS dispatch in their communities in a proposal made to Premier Kenney in December, and had hoped Kenney would intervene to override his health minister’s decision to allow AHS to consolidate dispatch service from six call centres to three.
That proposal now appears to have been ignored by Kenney, who had not spoken to the mayors about it as of Monday.
“Right now it has been a wall of silence, and they are determined to move forward with this change,” stated Spearman. “I think it is completely unacceptable. A government needs to be accountable to Albertans. People have been asking for accountability for this government, and there has been no credibility in their dealings with municipalities.”
Spearman and the other mayors confirmed not only had there been no communication with the premier’s office on this issue, there has also been no communication to date from Alberta Health Services on how the system will be handed over as of Jan.19 from local dispatch. And there are no answers from AHS on how it intends to work with other local emergency response agencies like law enforcement or fire services in the formerly integrated communities.
“The City of Lethbridge has six (ambulances) — it is not unusual to have three of those ambulances out of the city on inter-facility transfers,” stated Spearman. “Under the AHS system, we are counting on them to call back and request a fire apparatus, and we’re not confident they will consistently do that, and the nearest ambulance might be 20-30 minutes away. I think that is shocking service. It is a blatant disregard for people who are suffering health emergencies.”
Lethbridge West MLA and NDP Finance Critic Shannon Phillips also weighed in on the issue Monday.
“It was very clear to me the UCP was busy making vacation plans rather than engaging with municipalities (on this issue),” said Phillips. “That is really unfortunate, and I think it is no coincidence, the (former) Minister of Municipal Affairs was one of the people sunning herself on the beach, and had planned to be away for almost four weeks while these kinds of issues were bubbling, and while millions of Albertans felt they weren’t being heard on something as fundamental as emergency response.”
Lethbridge East MLA Nathan Neudorf declined to give comment on the issue when given the opportunity by The Lethbridge Herald on Monday.
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