Health minister commits to EMS dispatch consolidation despite mayors’ objections

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Fire and police dispatch remains a local responsibility. But the mayors were aligned in their position that changing the system would increase wait times for emergency help without achieving worthwhile savings. Wood Buffalo Mayor Don Scott went so far as to call it an “attack” on front-line emergency response.

Nenshi told a council committee at the beginning of September that he was surprised at the sudden change, noting health ministers over the past 10 years have repeatedly decided against it.

“I will fight this one hard,” Nenshi said. “I think citizens have every right to be very concerned about it.”

Mayor Naheed Nenshi speaks to reporters after a day of discussion at City Hall on future policing budgets in Calgary. Thursday, September 10, 2020.
Mayor Naheed Nenshi speaks to reporters in Calgary. Thursday, September 10, 2020. Photo by Brendan Miller/Postmedia

Despite those efforts, which included a mid-August letter to Shandro urging him to “step in and reverse this decision” and a letter to all Calgary MLAs asking them to advocate to “stop this senseless proposal,” the province is signalling a clear intention to go ahead.

In a bolded and underlined section of Shandro’s letter, he says emergency response will see no delays “and Albertans who request EMS will notice no change.”

Shandro also attached a letter from chief paramedic Darren Sandbeck outlining the “rationale” for the consolidation.

Sandbeck said calls to EMS are answered “well over 95 per cent of the time in less than 10 seconds,” and he directly disputed many of Nenshi’s concerns about the change.

“The Mayor of Calgary continues to make statements that ‘people are going to die’ and quote AHS as saying this is ‘no big deal as few people die in the first few minutes anyway.’ This is untrue and disrespectful,” Sandbeck said.

He maintains in the letter that the current approach is a “duplicate system” in which municipal call-takers are repeating work that AHS already does.

Nenshi has said that when someone in Calgary calls 911, the Calgary Fire Department’s medical first responders are first on the scene of a medical emergency nearly half the time, and without direct local co-ordination with EMS, that process could be disrupted.

Twitter: @meksmith

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