UPDATE: Access to healthcare

Alberta Municipalities monitors aspects of the healthcare system that are important to ensuring your residents can access essential healthcare services, and advocates on behalf of member municipalities for the provincial government to make changes that will improve access to these services.

AMA & provincial government reach agreement

The Alberta Medical Association (AMA) shared that, at the end of September, their members ratified a new agreement with the provincial government. Of the physicians who responded, 70.2% voted “yes’ to ratification. Voter turnout was 45.8% of eligible AMA members. While voter turnout was higher for the package that members rejected in 2021, turnout for the September 2022 vote was still high in comparison with AMA ratification votes historically.

An overview of the agreement can be found here on the Government of Alberta’s website. The provincial government indicated that it plans to invest a total of $252 million over four years – $59 million in annual funding and $16 million in one-time investments – to support practice viability and recruitment and retention of family physicians and specialists in areas facing challenges, including rural and remote communities.

Over the past three years, ABmunis and RMA have jointly encouraged the provincial government to enter into a new agreement with the AMA and adequately support Alberta’s physicians. Time will tell if this agreement helps improve the stability and viability of physician practices around Alberta and supports efforts to attract physicians to communities where their services are most needed.

CPSA pilot project for registering international medical graduates

The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Alberta (CPSA) has just announced a five-year pilot project to implement an additional route to registration for international medical graduates (IMGs) trained in certain jurisdictions. The goal of the pilot is to evaluate whether certain IMGs may begin independently practicing in their identified communities faster, while still ensuring patient safety is the top priority. Visit the CPSA website to learn more about the project.

Progress of AHS’ 10-Point Plan for EMS

Alberta Health Services (AHS) continues to implement all items in its Emergency Medical Services (EMS) 10-Point Plan introduced in January 2022 in response to joint advocacy by ABmunis and RMA. The objective of the plan is to help address continued system pressures and create capacity within the EMS system. The progress made on each of the initiatives is regularly updated on the AHS EMS website. The EMS 10-Point Plan is one of AHS’ critical health priorities - a list of all current AHS priorities can be found here.

Between January and September 2022, AHS added 19 new ambulances in Calgary (9) and Edmonton (10). Additionally, extra hours of ambulance coverage were added in Okotoks and Chestermere in August. Hiring is ongoing within EMS, and between January and June EMS hired 202 new employees, including 167 paramedics.

Specifically, Calgary Zone hired 47 paramedics and Emergency Medical Responders (EMRs) between May and August 2022, and Edmonton Zone hired 54. Looking over the longer term, in June 2019, 2,569 paramedics were employed by AHS, and as of June 2022, 3,022 paramedics are employed by AHS - which is a 17.6% increase.

Adding resources in the province's two largest cities where there is the highest demand should have a positive ripple effect on neighbouring communities, as this allows EMS to keep more ambulances in the communities where they are based.

Additionally, AHS implemented the Metro Response Plan (MRP) in March, and since then there have been noticeable improvements in keeping suburban ambulances in their home communities. EMS is continuing to see a significant decrease in suburban and rural ambulances coming into metro areas, which allows for local community coverage to be increased and suburban and rural response times to decrease. For example, before this change, the average number of weekly calls for suburban and rural ambulances being called into the Calgary Zone was approximately 400. Currently, the weekly average is approximately 130. In Edmonton, prior to the response plan changes, there were about 400 outside of community responses per week, and currently there are about 290.

Changes have also been made to cease the automatic dispatch of ambulances to non-injury motor vehicle collisions and to pre-empt ambulances from lower priority assignments and divert it them to more urgent calls when needed. These efforts assist in reducing response times to critical patients. Further updates on AHS pilot projects (e.g., managing non-emergency inter-facility transfers, addressing hours of work and fatigue) and operational changes can be found on the AHS EMS website.

In the spring of 2022, surveys about the current and future state of EMS were shared by Alberta Health with AHS staff, the public, contract service partners and municipal leaders. Due to concurrent and ongoing work by the Alberta EMS Provincial Advisory Council (AEPAC) and the evaluation of dispatch services by a third party, the Minister of Health has directed submission of a draft Service Plan, including the recommendations of these two groups, to him for approval by November 30.

AHS Health Care Aide training program

Alberta Health Services started offering a training program for people to become certified Health Care Aides (HCAs) in rural and remote areas on September 1, 2022. Students in the program will work and ‘earn’ as they complete their HCA certification through a post-secondary college. The program takes between eight and 12 months to complete, and tuition is covered by AHS. Throughout the program, students will receive support, training and mentorship from a professional team of nurses. Share this information with organizations and residents in your communities and support the development of local healthcare providers. For more information, view the HCA Training Program Primer or send the program coordinators an hca.info [at] ahs.ca (email)

More announcements

The provincial government recently made several other announcements about efforts being made to improve Alberta’s healthcare system. These announcements have addressed areas such as nursing, ICU capacity, long-term care, new healthcare facilities, etc. and can be found on the Government of Alberta’s news feed.