While Alberta's health minister promises to 'monitor' issues surrounding rural EMS dispatch, regional 911 officials say lives are still at risk in the province's southwest.
The latest salvo in the ongoing dispute between the Foothills Regional Emergency Services Commission (FRESC) and the provincial government regarding errors and delays relating to EMS dispatch consolidation came Tuesday, with Foothills 911 officials accusing Health Minister Sarah Hoffman of sidestepping issues with empty promises to monitor a problem proponents say she could easily fix.
"Her actions seem to be clear — they're satisfied with what's going on, while our municipalities aren't," said FRESC vice-chair Jamie Thiessen.
"Let's stop finding reasons and let's come to solutions, so we can all do the best job possible in the first place."
It's the reasons behind the delays that are of utmost concern to southwestern Alberta's first responders, who blame dangerous and unnecessary lags in dispatching fire department medical first response (MFR) calls on the province's decision to remove EMS dispatch from Foothills 911 — a move made earlier this year as part of province-wide consolidation initiatives.
Local fire crews are often dispatched alongside EMS for urgent medical calls, as they're capable of arriving at scenes faster than ambulances in remote and rural areas.
FRESC is demanding Hoffman immediately return local EMS dispatch to FRESC — a consideration granted to other communities and one they say can be immediately accommodated.
Last week during question period, the minister promised to monitor the situation while offering no real solutions to problems rural stakeholders say are putting lives at risk.
"We don't know what 'monitoring' means," Thiessen said.
"We've been contacted relating to the specific incidents by representatives of Alberta Health Services, but neither the minister's office nor AHS has been in contact relating to anything else, or do any follow-up."
These incidents, made public by FRESC earlier this month, outline instances where they say delays have put lives at in danger.
Thiessen took exception to statements by both the minister and AHS that suggest the issue lies in FRESC's ability to adjust to changes in process — changes the rural 911 commission says they've been dealing with since 2009.
"We need to figure out, with AHS management. how we're going to fix the lags in being told where we need to be, how we're going to get there and how to support better patient outcomes," Thiessen said, adding that FRESC's position on the issue has been consistent.
Foothills 911 handles emergency calls and fire dispatch for 26 municipalities and 33 fire stations across a vast area, stretching from Lake Louise to Fort Macleod.
Currently, medical 911 calls answered at FRESC's Black Diamond facility are transferred to EMS dispatch in Calgary — a process that itself introduces a 30 second delay.
If a response by local fire crews is required, the request is typed up in Calgary and sent back down to Foothills 911 for dispatch — a process that FRESC says, at best, adds five minutes to that call for help — nearly three times longer than it did before EMS dispatch was moved north.
According to FRESC, only 4% of those calls are being transferred back to Foothills 911 within the industry standard of 90 seconds. Of those, 73% of MFR requests are a minute over that standard, while over 53% are over three minutes. FRESC says the longest day in transferring a first response request was 64 minutes.