Alberta EMS accepted all 53 recommendations in its report.
Alberta Health Minister Jason Copping released reports on Monday looking into EMS capacity and the central dispatch system. The province estimates the number of 911 calls has increased by 30 per cent since last spring. (Audrey Neveu/Radio Canada)
The Alberta government is attempting to free up EMS crews for emergencies by transferring non-emergencies between facilities to third-party companies.
The move is one of 53 suggestions in the Alberta EMS Provincial Advisory Committee’s report released Monday by Health Minister Jason Copping.
But critics say the province is privatizing the EMS system and ignoring recommendations from the Health Sciences Association of Alberta (HSAA). The HSAA represents roughly 3,500 paramedics and 357 emergency communications officers.
Mike Parker, president of the HSAA, said he is excited the government is acknowledging the problems with EMS and its privatization of inter-facility transfer not resolving capacity issues.
“The plan to privatize transfers will drain the number of paramedics available to respond to emergency calls because there’s only one pool of professionals and added competition won’t make more available,” he said.
Highwood MLA RJ Sigurdson and Grande Prairie MLA Tracy Allard chaired the EMS advisory committee, which began its work in January 2022. Copping said Alberta accepted all 53 recommendations in the report, which was completed last October.
The report suggests moving non-urgent patients who arrived at an emergency room via ambulance to the waiting room, freeing EMS crews to respond to other emergencies. EMS staff currently wait with their patients until they can be seen by medical staff.
Another recommendation is for Alberta to create a project for transition rooms staffed with medical personnel where patients waiting for transfers could wait. The report says AHS has rooms at the Edmonton International Airport, where air ambulance patients wait for transfers via ground ambulance.
Other recommendations look at improving work life for existing EMS staff. That includes more breaks and the ability to finish their shifts on time.
Surge in EMS demand
Alberta plans to add 20 ambulances to Edmonton and Calgary this spring. The province estimates the number of 911 calls has increased by 30 per cent since last spring.
“There was no slack in the system before and there’s just no way to respond to 30 per cent more calls without real strain on the system,” Copping said.
HSAA has asked the government to offer jobs to paramedics who currently work as casuals or on contract.
The report concludes that increased demand for EMS is creating delays, not the central dispatch itself.