‘Response times of 30 minutes to one hour’: Alberta paramedic union alarmed over red alerts

CALGARY –

There are growing calls for changes to Alberta’s EMS system after Calgary experienced a lengthy red alert on Thursday.

A red alert, also known as a code red, is issued when there are no ambulances available to respond to emergency calls.

Thursday’s red Alert lasted several hours, causing concern for the union that represents Alberta paramedics.

Mike Parker, president of the Health Sciences Association of Alberta (HSAA) says that, simply put, more resources are needed.

“We see from our members on the street reporting, response times of 30 minutes to one hour,” he said.

“We don’t have the people.”

Parker says the situation has led to an internal crisis for members on the front lines and the patients they are trying to serve.

“Our paramedics are the professionals out there and they have been calling for assistance for almost a generation now on resources levels in this province, and it is unfortunate the current government is not acting,” Parker said. “They are failing to act.”

In January, ambulance dispatch service across the province was consolidated despite concerns from politicians and stakeholders alike who feared the changes could be disastrous.

Months later, in October, an official complaint was jointly filed with the Alberta Ombudsman from officials in Calgary, Lethbridge, Red Deer and the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo.

“We had a system that worked very well until it was taken over by the province,” Calgary Mayor Jyoti Gondek said Friday. “I don’t know why we couldn’t have continued the way we were doing things.”

“Emergency is a critical response to Albertans and I’m hoping we can go back to what we used to do really well.”

The union representing the province’s firefighters is also echoing the call for change.

Firefighters are often first on the scene at emergency calls.

“You’re seeing fire trucks in a community such as Calgary on scene for up to an hour and a half on scene waiting for an ambulance,” Alberta Fire Fighters Association president Matt  Osborne said.

“You’re seeing delays in towns like Canmore where they have no ambulances because they have been pulled into Calgary on calls – and that’s what’s causing a delay – because they are responding so far out.”

“Unfortunately, where we are at with EMS in our province right now, is that it’s not at the breaking point right now, unfortunately it’s broken.”

Speaking during Question Period on Thursday, Premier Jason Kenney said his government is “following the expert advice that they’ve received.”

“I believe three separate independent studies that have been done, all validating that EMS services can be delivered at high quality and with great speed through a coordinated approach,” Kenney said.

“It works very well in Edmonton,” he added. “There is no reason why they should not be able to work just as well in other municipalities as it has been doing since the transition a few months ago.”

“There’s been absolutely no change for anyone who calls 911,” he said.

“Albertans benefit when emergency medical response is closely coordinated with the health care system and aligns with best practices for patient care.”

– With files from Kathy Le

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