Alberta plans to improve EMS response times by diverting non-emergency transports


The province says it has a plan to improve Alberta’s beleaguered Emergency Medical Services system and provided a blueprint Wednesday morning.

Premier Danielle Smith, Health Minister Jason Copping and Alberta Health Services administrator Dr. John Cowell announced “a new initiative that will free up ambulances and paramedics to respond to emergency calls more quickly.”

“We all know Albertans are waiting too long for an ambulance to arrive to help in what may be someone’s greatest time of need,” said Premier Smith. “Starting today, Alberta Health Services will use alternate modes of transportation for non-emergency transfers of patients instead of using ambulances where it’s clinically appropriate to do so. This will free up ambulances and paramedics to respond to more emergency calls and to provide urgent care faster. It’s important that these highly trained professionals can deal with actual emergencies and not shuttle patients from one place to another.”

Under the initiative, approximately 15 per cent of non-medical patient transports will be diverted away from ambulance crews staffed with highly-trained parmedics in favour of alternate modes of transportation including modified passenger vans. According to Alberta Health Services, the move could potentially allow for more than 70 more transports each day across the province.

“Paramedics are highly skilled health professionals who are trained to respond in times of crisis,” said Premier Smith. “We want to ensure their skills are being used in the best way possible while also ensuring Albertans are not left waiting after a call to 911.”

Smith says a pilot program has proven successful in a number of communities including Calgary, Bonnyville, Valleyview and St. Paul.

The province was not able to provide an exact number of how many of the modified vans are currently on Alberta roads, but Dr. Cowell confirmed “there’s an active small fleet in Calgary right now.”

Earlier this month, the Alberta NDP released data collected through a Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy act that showed more than 9,629 EMS shifts in the Calgary area have gone unfilled this year. The data also found the amount of time EMS crews spend in hospitals instead of on the streets responding to calls has increased.

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