Alberta’s opposition says it believes centralizing EMS dispatch has led to more ambulance code red alerts in Edmonton and will lead to more code reds in Calgary if dispatch services are taken away from the city’s control.
A red alert is triggered when there are no metro ambulances available to respond to 911 calls.
“Ever since AHS began its centralization experiments with EMS services, Albertans have watched services decline across the province,” Wildrose health critic Drew Barnes said in a release.”The numbers show that centralization results in a 3,000 per cent increase in code reds.”
The Wildrose pointed to a document it accessed under the Freedom of Information Act that showed the Edmonton zone experienced 888 code red events during the first 11 months of 2015. According to the document, some of these events lasted for as little as a single second. The longest event occurred on Feb. 18, 2015 and lasted just over 16 minutes.
“In contrast, over the entirety of 2015, Calgary experienced just 39 (red alerts),” the Wildrose press release said.
READ MORE: EMS red alerts down in Alberta but problems still remain
Last week, AHS responded to a request from Global News for 2015 code red data. AHS confirmed that Calgary had experienced 39 code reds in 2015, down from 60 in 2014. It reported Edmonton’s code red numbers as an accumulated total time. In 2015, AHS says Edmonton EMS was in a state of red alert for a total of 27 hours, down from 49 hours in 2014.
According to Nick Thain, executive director for EMS South Sector for Alberta Health Services, code reds are tracked differently between Alberta’s two major cities because in Calgary, dispatch services are still managed by the City of Calgary. “In Calgary, red alerts are tracked manually, so a dispatcher will go in and report that the system has either entered or ended a red alert.”
In Edmonton, Thain says red alerts are tracked with computer software so the information around how long red alerts last is more precise.
Alberta had planned to move to one province-wide dispatch system in 2009 but that plan was put on hold before the provincial election last year. Health Minister Sarah Hoffman says she’s still reviewing the issue and hasn’t decided if the province should proceed with a fully centralized dispatch service.
“I want to make sure that I make the right decision,” Hoffman said in an interview with Global News. “We’re going to keep working with AHS, the Health Quality Council of Alberta and local leaders like (Calgary’s) Mayor Nenshi to make sure we’re doing what’s best for Albertans.”
In 2013, a report from the HQCA recommended the province expedite work to complete plans to consolidate EMS dispatch in order to improve ambulance service across the province. But critics, including Calgary’s mayor, have said they believe that would be a mistake.