Group of mayors claim Alberta’s consolidated EMS dispatch has led to errors, delayed response times

CALGARY — The mayors of four Alberta cities say there has been a troubling increase in errors and delayed ambulance response times since the provincial government moved their communities into the consolidated EMS dispatch system.

The mayors of Calgary, Lethbridge, Red Deer and the regional municipality of Wood Buffalo, voiced their concerns and requested an immediate inquiry into the issue in a letter sent Monday to Premier Jason Kenney, Health Minister Tyler Shandro and the provincial government caucus.

Nenshi says the new consolidated EMS dispatch system went down for just over an hour last Tuesday night, impacting roughly 25 calls and in one case causing a delay of 16 minutes in responding to an unconscious person in the downtown core.

In that case, a fire hall was just 300 metres from the person, but the Calgary Fire Department was never alerted to the call.

The outage meant dispatchers had no access to the CAD system, used to share notes with responders. They also lost access to mobile phone numbers and GPS tracking of units.

Nenshi says that while some issues are to be expected in changing over a major system, AHS seemed unaware of the outage until contacted by local fire officials. He says there was no communication either at the time or in the days that followed about what went wrong or how it would be corrected in future.

Mayor Don Scott of the regional municipality of Wood Buffalo says a separate error on a call last week shows a critical weakness in the new system.

A snowmobiler was badly hurt near Anzac, which has a volunteer fire department. But the 911 call resulted in an ambulance being dispatched from Fort McMurray, a 30 minute drive away. When it became clear the injured man needed advanced care, a second ambulance was sent along the half-hour drive.

Scott says knowing the geography of his massive municipality — roughly the size of the province of Nova Scotia — would have saved critical time in getting the injured man to help. He was later taken to hospital in Edmonton for more advanced care.

Lethbridge Mayor Chris Spearman says his city is willing to pay its $1.2 million share of the cost savings in order to leave dispatch alone, a call echoed by the other mayors. They say they’ve had no meaningful answer from the province on their offer.

According to the AHS website, the consolidation of EMS dispatch will save more than $6 million a year.

Four municipal dispatch sites will be consolidated into three: Peace River, Edmonton and Calgary. AHS claims there will be no change in response time, and says it already dispatches paramedics for 60 per cent of the province’s population.

AHS also says 911 calls are answered in under 10 seconds, 95 per cent of the time.

It also says there will be no difference in how fire departments are dispatched.

All four mayors were vocal and united in their opposition to the move to consolidated dispatch before the province introduced it.

The following is the letter signed by Mayor Naheed Nenshi of Calgary, Mayor Chris Spearman of Lethbridge, Mayor Tara Veer of Red Deer and Mayor Don Scott of Wood Buffalo.

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