Alberta Health Services Emergency Ambulance Dispatch – Independent Review
IT IS THEREFORE RESOLVED THAT the AUMA advocate to the Government of Alberta and the Minister of Health to undertake an independent third-party review of the AHS emergency ambulance dispatch system and to investigate the increase in response times and the technical outages that have occurred since the ambulance dispatch transition began in the Province of Alberta in 2009.
WHEREAS on January 12, 2021, emergency ambulance dispatch was fully consolidated into the Alberta Health Services (AHS) provincial dispatch system. This removed it from the four integrated satellite centers, which were used to assist in providing this vital health service. Since the move to a total provincial dispatch system, there have several cases of increased response times and technical errors, which put Albertans’ lives at risk ;
WHEREAS the Alberta integrated satellite centres dispatch approach is proven to be an effective system in delivering prompt, efficient, and accurate emergency dispatch to the residents of Alberta;
WHEREAS past centralizations have degraded emergency response, but as this is the final consolidation, the real consequences have yet to be fully experienced by Albertans; and
WHEREAS many municipalities have experienced numerous errors and delays that affected emergency response times, these errors would not have occurred under the integrated satellite model. It is clear that AHS alone cannot meet the emergency dispatch demands for Alberta, thus putting lives at risk.
AHS Emergency Ambulance Dispatch is an issue that impacts all municipalities across the province. Red Deer, Lethbridge, Calgary and Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo have been at the forefront in attempting to convince the Government of Alberta to reverse its decision to fully centralized ambulance emergency dispatch services.
The AUMA issued a statement on this matter back in August 2020. Key issues that were raised included that more information about the impact of consolidation on response times was required and that municipalities are totally frustrated regarding the lack of consultation on the matter. This new resolution speaks directly to the performance issues that AHS is experiencing with the centralized service model, and that an independent review of performance measures is required.
AHS officials have stated that dispatch centralization will not result in a degradation of service. This commitment was also made in previous consolidations, but to date 39 Alberta communities have gone on record that their communities experienced a degradation of service, both in timing and coordination of emergency dispatch, and in the number of ambulances available in their communities. In the words of a fellow Alberta Mayor whose community dispatch was consolidated into the provincial system in 2014, “We should have fought with you harder in 2013”. In other words, had they known what was going to happen, instead of believing the appeasing assurances that emergency ambulance service would not degrade for their community, they would have done more to stop it.
Past centralizations have degraded emergency response, but as this is the final consolidation, the real consequences, intended and unintended, have yet to be fully experienced by Albertans. May we learn from other provinces' life and death experiences, instead of being forced to learn through the consequences that are on the horizon for Albertans.
This is an important municipal issue. It speaks to the safety and wellbeing of our residents, and the fact that municipalities were providing this dispatch service at a much higher standard before it was centralized.
Further background on the benefits of an integrated dispatch approach:
- Integrated dispatch services allow fire, EMS, and for Lethbridge and Calgary (and in the future for Red Deer), police communications operators to be in the same room.
- When a dispatcher learns a critical piece of information, the other dispatcher is immediately made aware through verbal communication within the room.
- When fire and EMS communicate in the same room, they provide for a faster response.
- Integrated dispatch services allow emergency response units to leave the station earlier in critical situations where seconds matter, or as often occurs, in advance of an ambulance.
- Integrated approach in emergency services means that individuals are cross-trained in both firefighting and emergency medical services response, providing a seamless response to any emergency by any and every member. Integration between fire and ambulance is critical for patient outcomes.
- Municipal dispatch staff are cross-trained 911 call takers, and both fire and medical dispatchers.
- The cross-training provides the most efficient and effective services to patients in need. This is imperative for patient outcomes.
- Integrated service allows fire units to be dispatched simultaneously as ambulances.
No formal response has been received from the Minister of Health to this resolution in particular though the independent review is mentioned the Minister’s March 25, 2022 letter responding to the 2021 resolution, 'Responsibility of Ambulance Service Delivery' :
"Part of that January 2022 announcement was that the province will engage independent health system experts to conduct a review of Alberta's EMS dispatch system. The objective review will inform improvements that can be made to dispatch services overall. This review is to be completed by September 2022."
Intent not met – further action will be taken.
In January 2022, in response to Alberta Municipalities and RMA advocacy, Alberta Health announced plans to:
- establish a provincial emergency medical services advisory committee to provide immediate and long-term recommendations to the Minister of Health, which are to be made public by September 2022;
- develop and start implementing a 10-point plan to add capacity to EMS; and
- take steps to engage a consultant to conduct a third-party review of Alberta's provincewide EMS dispatch system.
While significant progress has been made on the first two actions that Alberta Health announced, no further steps seem to have been taken in 2022 by the province to engage a consultant to conduct a third-party review. ABmunis is awaiting the outcomes of the emergency medical services advisory committee which may include further comment or direction on the third-party review and/or on dispatch services generally. Cathy Heron, President of Alberta Municipalities, is a member of the advisory committee.