Health minister aiming for imminent EMS decision to avoid timeline delays

Health Minister Tyler Shandro says he’s planning to make a final verdict on consolidating EMS dispatch services shortly to avoid affecting the rollout date of any changes. 

“I would hope to make a decision so that there’s no concerns for either the four municipalities or AHS about a delay,” he told CBC News in a sit down interview. 

In August, Alberta Health Services announced Calgary, Red Deer, Lethbridge and Wood Buffalo, four municipalities that still handle their own ambulance dispatch, would be agglomerated into the existing provincial system. The rest of Alberta was moved to those three AHS dispatch centres in Calgary, Edmonton and Peace River in 2009.

The move is anticipated to save more than $6 million each year and would be completed early in the new year. 

Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi, Red Deer Mayor Tara Veer, Lethbridge Mayor Chris Spearman and Wood Buffalo Mayor Don Scott have been fighting the decision since it was announced. 

The mayors are concerned the consolidation could slow response times and disrupt the way EMS coordinates with fire and police (which are not included in the change).

“When it comes to protecting the lives of the people we serve, we are willing to go to the wall,” they said in a joint letter last week. 

The minister insists patients will see no change in service.

Changes paused, awaiting minister’s decision

Shandro met with the mayors on Sept. 24 and promised to take their input into account. The changes are on hold until he reaches a conclusion. 

“I am going to listen to their concerns before I allow AHS to take further steps,” he said. 

“It’s actually a question about integration and whether our paramedics, including dispatch, should be integrated with our hospital system or with a municipality.”

Shandro said he couldn’t confirm if reversing the decision is on the table at this point, but assured that the issue should be finalized soon. 

Minister Shandro talks about the AHS consolidation of EMS services, which would bring four municipalities in line with the rest of the province despite pushback from the mayors. 3:13

The minister’s office later added that the four municipalities are outliers, as many other provinces and countries currently dispatch paramedics through a centralized system. 

Calgary’s mayor and city council have been particularly vocal about what they deem the risks of this transition. 

Nenshi doesn’t share the minister’s concern about a tight schedule. 

“It’s not the delay that we’re worried about. It’s much better to delay this, to get it right, than to move forward with the ridiculous timeline that they have in place,” he said. 

“It’s time for this minister to show that he’s actually listening to Albertans on something and just say no.”

The mayor added there have been no conversations with the minister since the meeting near the end of September. Shandro’s office says they will be in touch when they reach a conclusion.

Data doesn’t match

Much of the data each side refers to when making their arguments doesn’t align.

For example, AHS data shows that 95 per cent of 911 calls are answered in less than 10 seconds, while numbers from Foothills County say 95 per cent of calls in their area are not completed within 90 seconds. 

The four municipal leaders have stressed that changing the system would make EMS, fire and police less efficient in coordinating responses — adding extra minutes they say could cost lives. 

Shandro says it won’t be an issue. 

“My understanding is that’s not going to be changed.” 

Several attempts by the province to take over EMS dispatch in Calgary in the past decade have been halted by previous health ministers. 

The current minister maintains he thinks this consolidation is the best choice and makes sense for the province, but the mayors aren’t budging either. 

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