RED DEER -- On Aug. 4, the City of Red Deer was notified that Alberta Health Services plans to remove integrated municipal ambulance dispatch service in Red Deer, Lethbridge, Calgary and Wood Buffalo and consolidate them down to three AHS emergency ambulance provincial communications centres in Edmonton, Calgary and Peace River.

Currently, a 911 caller will speak to the municipal 911 centre who will dispatch EMS and fire. With the proposed EMS consolidation plan, a 911 caller will speak to the municipal 911 centre who will then transfer the call to the AHS 911 dispatcher who will then dispatch the EMS. If fire is needed, AHS call centre will need to contact the Red Deer 911 centre again.

The elimination of the integrated dispatch model in Red Deer, Lethbridge, Calgary and Wood Buffalo is expected to save more than $5 million each year. However, Mayor Tara Veer said Red Deer is already saving money for AHS under the current EMS dispatch system.

“If the City of Red Deer were to bill AHS for the times that a fire unit was dispatched for their services, we would have billed AHS $2.15 million in 2019. For several years, local fire units have been providing fire medic services to AHS at no cost to them in the interest of ensuring public safety and positive patient outcomes.”

In Red Deer, fire vehicles are the first to arrive for 40 per cent of medical calls. This is due to the fact that Red Deer firefighters are cross-trained as paramedics.

“All of our firefighters and paramedics are fire-medics meaning that they are dually trained to do both jobs where as AHS paramedics are trained for ambulance services only. Red Deer’s delivery model enables combined fire, rescue, and advanced life support ambulance services as emergency responders are trained to respond to medical crisis, regardless if the call is made for fire or for ambulance.”

However, Mayor Veer said, under the AHS consolidated dispatch, fire would not be dispatched immediately.

“Without integrated dispatch services, the fire vehicle may not even be sent to the scene, or there will be a delay as a second call for a fire vehicle will need to be made with 911 callers potentially having to re-tell their location and situation again,” said Veer.

“This presents risks to patient outcomes.”

In the last quarter, the AHS communications centre in Edmonton averaged a dispatch time of 92 seconds, two seconds slower than the AHS standard of 90 seconds. Red Deer averaged a dispatch time of 71 seconds.

“In life and death circumstances, particularly with vulnerable populations such as seniors, with kids calling, with language barriers, and in panic situations because none of us know how we would respond in an emergency, those seconds are absolutely critical.”

Veer said that AHS is planning to launch the EMS consolidation model by January 4, 2021. Veer and the mayors from Calgary, Lethbridge, and the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo are scheduled to meet with Health Minister Tyler Shandro on Thursday.