The City of Red Deer was notified on Aug. 4 that Alberta Health Services intends to remove integrated municipal ambulance dispatch service in Red Deer, Lethbridge, Calgary and the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo and consolidate down to three AHS emergency ambulance provincial communications centres (Peace River, Edmonton and Calgary). This is being done in an effort to save $5 million but may risk patient care, locally and across Alberta.
The decision was based on the recommendations from the Ernst and Young report published in February 2020. The report was developed without engaging affected municipalities, including the many rural communities that rely on the Red Deer dispatch centre. Alberta Health Services pushed forward despite a commitment made by the Minister of Health to have AHS consult municipalities and examine the impact of a consolidated model on local response times and patient safety in the affected regions and for all Albertans by removing the satellite centers and routing all emergency calls to only three centres.
Red Deer’s current model of integrated fire and emergency ambulance service is regarded nationally and internationally for its efficiency and most importantly, patient-first approach. All firefighters and paramedics with Red Deer Emergency Services are fire medics; meaning they are dually trained to do both jobs, whereas AHS responders are only trained for ambulance service.
Red Deer’s delivery model enables combined Fire/Rescue/Advanced Life Support Ambulance Service, as emergency responders are trained to respond to medical crisis, regardless of whether the call is made for fire or ambulance. In 40 per cent of medical calls in Red Deer, the fire vehicle arrives first, and because our firefighters are cross-trained as paramedics, they can provide lifesaving care to the patient before an ambulance arrives.
Under AHS consolidated dispatch, fire would not be dispatched immediately, resulting in delayed patient care that could mean the difference between life and death. Furthermore, without integrated dispatch services, the fire vehicle may not be sent to the scene, or there will be a delay as a second call for a fire vehicle will need to be made, with 911 callers potentially having to re-tell their location and situation again.
Red Deer’s accredited 911 Emergency Communications Centre currently dispatches emergency ambulance services 18-21 seconds faster than the AHS emergency communications centre in Edmonton. Last quarter, the AHS communications centre in Edmonton averaged a dispatch time of 92 seconds, despite AHS having a standard of 90 seconds. In contrast, Red Deer averaged 71 seconds during the same period. Through consolidated AHS dispatch, emergency response times will be delayed by crucial seconds, which can make the difference of patient survival in the most critical of calls.
The City of Red Deer strongly believes a consolidation will not result in cost savings for the Provincial Government in the medium to long-term, and worse, will result in negative patient outcomes through slower response times, especially in life and death situations where seconds count. AHS believes by eliminating the integrated dispatch model in Red Deer, Calgary, Lethbridge and Wood Buffalo, they will save $5 million a year. However if The City of Red Deer were to bill AHS for the times that a fire unit was dispatched for their services, the city would have billed AHS $2.15 million in 2019. For several years, local fire units have been providing fire medic services to AHS at no cost to them in the interest of ensuring public safety and positive patient outcomes.
City Council and Mayor Veer, with the Mayors and Councils from Calgary, Lethbridge and the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo and our regional partners continue to call on the Minister of Health to reverse this decision. Learn more by visiting www.reddeer.ca/secondscount.