May 21st, 2024

City going to ombudsman on dispatch consolidation

By Tim Kalinowski on September 28, 2021.


Lethbridge city council approved an Official Business Resolution at a Special Meeting on Monday which would authorize Mayor Chris Spearman to sign off on a formal complaint to the Alberta Ombudsman about how the consolidation of EMS Dispatch has impacted ambulance service levels and response times in the city.
The motion passed 7-0 with Coun. Rob Miyashiro absent, and Coun. Joe Mauro appearing to experience technical difficulties in communicating his vote to city council.
The passing of the OBR means the City of Lethbridge will now join the Cities of Red Deer and Calgary, and the RM of Wood Buffalo in making a formal complaint to the Ombudsman.
Mayor Chris Spearman, who called the Special Meeting and sponsored the OBR, hoped the Ombudsman would shine a light on how the “disastrous” rollout of consolidated EMS Dispatch has put Lethbridge lives at risk.
“I would say based on the information we are hearing from people that call 911; yes that’s true,” Spearman responded, confirming he felt the rollout truly has been ‘disastrous.’ “We had asked for accountability. We were told there would be accountability (by AHS), but there has been none. We are hearing Alberta Health Services dispatch contradict callers. People say, ‘We called. There is five or six witnesses that say it took 25 minutes, and EMS dispatch central services says, ‘It only took 10 (minutes).’ We have heard of people in medical distress not receiving services. We are hearing we have Code Red levels like we never had before.”
“Code Red” means no ambulances available to respond, and Spearman says the reason appears to be ambulances from Lethbridge are being drawn into Calgary to drop off patients, and being kept there to respond to local emergencies instead of returning to home base in Lethbridge.
“If there is a medical emergency in the City of Calgary, and they are the closest ambulance, they are drawn to that emergency in Calgary,” Spearman stated. “But that doesn’t help us down in Lethbridge, or in any of the communities in the South Zone.”
Spearman said local Fire and EMS officials have documented “hundreds” of issues with local EMS ambulance response since Lethbridge lost the ability to dispatch its own ambulances locally in 2020.Â
The Herald did reach out to Alberta Health Services for comment on Spearman’s statements Monday afternoon.
“Alberta’s EMS system is in constant fluctuation as ambulances respond to calls, arrive at hospitals, clear from calls, or as staff come on or go off shift,” the AHS statement reads. “Ambulances are a provincial resource, and while they may be based in one location this does not mean they serve only that location. EMS monitors ambulance availability in real time and ensures resources are available to respond to emergencies. System adjustments are made minute by minute to make the best use of the existing resources.”
AHS says COVID-19 represents an additional burden on the emergency response system combined with the other pre-existing factors in Lethbridge.
“EMS continues to see an unprecedented increase in emergency calls due to several combined factors, including the COVID-19 pandemic, opioid concerns, and emergency calls related to people returning to regular levels of activity,” AHS confirms. “All call types have increased, and staff illness and fatigue are also contributing to challenges in the EMS system.
“Anyone who needs EMS care will receive it,” AHS emphasizes. “We are ensuring that the most critical patients are prioritized for receiving immediate care. EMS staff are working extremely hard to provide timely care to Alberta patients and we thank them for their tireless service.”

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