The provincial government seems willing to sacrifice some Albertan lives by stubbornly moving ahead to consolidate ambulance dispatch, said four Alberta mayors on Monday.
Red Deer Mayor Tara Veer joined with three other Alberta mayors — Calgary’s Naheed Nenshi, Lethbridge’s Chris Spearman, and Don Scott of the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo — to “implore” Alberta Premier Jason Kenney to prevent ambulance dispatch from being separated from local fire dispatch on Tuesday.
In Red Deer, Veer said fire-medics show up first at 40 per cent of emergency calls. Often they can arrive sooner when ambulances are busy waiting at hospitals with patients who need to get bed, or responding to out-of city calls.
But under the new system, fire medics could be sitting in their station unaware that a person in distress is a five-minute drive away — because they will not have been made aware of the 911 call that was routed to the Calgary ambulance dispatch centre, said Veer.
Study after study has shown that integrated fire-ambulance dispatch saves lives, added Veer, who made a strong appeal to the Premier, via Zoom, along with the other three mayors.
If the provincial government is no longer acting for Albertans, or willing to work in partnership with municipalities, “what is the future?” asked Veer. “What other changes or cuts can we expect?
“There is still time to do the right thing,” and prevent the change to ambulance dispatching, added Veer.
Spearman said the health minister “is not listening to Albertans,” or acting in their best interest, so the premier must either overrule or replace him.
Local ambulance dispatch is slated to be lost in Red Deer and other Central Alberta communities on Tuesday when the province “flips the switch” and starts to forward local 911 calls to a central dispatch in Calgary.
The four mayors urged the premier to stop consolidation as similar changes have cost lives, and worsened emergency response and care in B.C. and Ontario.
“Why in the world would he make this change now,” in the middle of a pandemic, asked Nenshi, who called it “unconscionable.”
He suggested it’s a provincial power play — that the government is intent in “seizing control of this one piece of the health care system,” even though experts have shown the change will degrade a service that saves lives.
Nenshi revealed that his father’s life was saved by fire-medics who arrived before the ambulance, “and he lived to see his second granddaughter being born and his son sworn in as mayor…. This is no small thing.”
The annual savings to consolidate Alberta’s seven dispatch centres into three is $5.7 million. The four municipalities have already offered Alberta Health Minister Tyler Shandro to chip in and cover this cost.
But neither Shandro, nor Premier Kenney, who was asked by municipalities to intervene, has responded to the municipalities’ offer.
The mayors said experts found consolidating Alberta’s ambulance dispatch will ruin an integrated model that was held up as a best-practice model around the globe.
In Red Deer, ambulance and fire dispatchers now operate in the same space and handle 911 calls from all of central Alberta. They can easily communicate and decide which kind of first response to deploy to produce the best result.
Red Deer employs fire-medics are trained to respond in any kind of emergency.
Plans to consolidate ambulance dispatch in only a few centres had been discussed by government for a decade.
The mayors noted plans were dropped by four previous health ministers once municipalities presented evidence that local ambulance dispatch systems, when integrated with fire dispatch, save lives.
If the change goes ahead this time, municipalities will have no choice but to try to work out local transition protocols to try to mitigate the danger as much as possible, said Veer.
Scott said it will be “catastrophic” for Wood Buffalo, because of the distance between remote communities.