The Alberta government will be launching a provincial emergency medical services advisory committee, in response to growing demand for emergency medical services (EMS) across Alberta. (File photo)

The Alberta government will be launching a provincial emergency medical services advisory committee, in response to growing demand for emergency medical services (EMS) across Alberta. (File photo)

Alberta government addresses emergency medical services pressures

Launching a provincial emergency medical services advisory committee

The Alberta government will be launching a provincial emergency medical services advisory committee, in response to growing demand for emergency medical services (EMS) across Alberta.

“As we approach the peak of Omicron cases, we know the EMS system is seeing significant strain, which impacts service. We recognize this is a challenge and are taking immediate steps to improve emergency care access while we explore longer-term solutions,” said Jason Copping, Minister of Health.

Committee co-chair R.J. Sigurdson, MLA for Highwood, said that the committee’s goal will be focused improving service to Albertans while supporting the most critical piece of that equation: our EMS staff across all of Alberta. They will work to provide recommendations and strategies that can be tested or more broadly implemented to the health minister by May.

“Responding to medical emergencies is a critical need for all Albertans. I am honoured to have this opportunity to make a difference and improve the system for the long term. I look forward to working as co-chair on this committee and taking swift action on this matter,” said Tracy Allard, co-chair, Provincial EMS Advisory Committee, and MLA for Grande Prairie in a provincial press release on Jan. 24, 2022.

Over the last several months, provincial EMS has received a 30 per cent increase in 911 calls. Similar EMS call volumes and challenges are happening across Canada and globally.

“It is long past time an Alberta government got to work on solving the EMS crisis in Alberta. Our advocacy to expose the state of EMS by reporting red alerts has made the need for action clear,” Mike Parker, president of the Health Sciences Association of Alberta (HSAA), said in a statement on HSAA’s webste.

“As the experts in the delivery of emergency medical services we are more than willing to get to work. However, to be clear, HSAA will not be recommending, or supportive, of any privatization efforts. My focus throughout this process will be the health of Albertans and ensuring care is there when they need it. Every dollar needs to be spent on patient care – not profits for private contractors,” said Parker.

Meanwhile, Alberta Health Services (AHS) will be rolling out a 10-point plan to quickly add capacity to EMS.

AHS said they have already began implementing certain measures, including hiring more paramedics, launching pilot projects to manage non-emergency inter-facility transfers, transferring low priority calls to other agencies in consultation with EMS physicians, initiating an ‘hours of work’ project to help ease staff fatigue and stopping the automatic dispatch of ambulances to motor vehicle collisions that don’t have injuries.

In the coming weeks, more steps will be introduced including a strategic provincial service plan for EMS delivery in the province, AHS will also create a new integrated operations centre in Calgary, which will bring paramedic leads and hospital staff together to improve integration, movement of resources and flow of patients.

Another step will be a pilot project in Red Deer. It will manage most patient transfers between facilities with dedicated transfer units which will free up ambulances to handle emergency calls.

“Bringing a local perspective to the provincial table will help Red Deer and central Alberta continue to shape the delivery of our emergency services,” said Ken McMullen, chief of emergency services, City of Red Deer.

“Our goal is to ensure all Red Deerians and Albertans are protected in an emergency. We appreciate the opportunity to work directly with our municipal and provincial counterparts to determine where change is needed, and make a plan for Alberta-wide outcomes.”

Evaluations by an emergency communications officers will also be done, to determine if an ambulance from out of area — though it may be closest to a 911 call — is most appropriate to respond.

They will also move ahead with allowing ambulances to be pre-empted from assignments, instead of being automatically dispatched when a 911 call is received, to ensure more ambulances are available for critical patients.

In February, the province plans to issue a request for proposals to conduct a third-party review of Alberta’s province-wide EMS dispatch system. The objective review by external health system experts will provide further opportunities to address ongoing pressures, improve effectiveness and efficiency through best practices, and provide the best outcomes for Albertans who call 911 during a medical event.