Wood Buffalo council defies province, votes to relocalize EMS dispatch centre
EDMONTON -- In a defiant move against the province, Wood Buffalo council voted unanimously Tuesday night to no longer transfer 911 calls from its communications centre to the Alberta Health Services (AHS) provincial dispatch centre.
“This should come as no surprise to AHS,” Wood Buffalo Mayor Don Scott said during a video conference Wednesday morning. “We have been telling them for seven months that if they went through with the transition that they proposed that there would be a reduction in service that would put our residents health at risk.”
Last summer AHS announced it would end local dispatch of Emergency Medical Services in four Alberta cities, including Wood Buffalo, to consolidate them into a central dispatch system.
That change took effect three weeks ago.
“There are circumstances when acts of defiance and resistance, I believe, are absolutely necessary,” said Scott. “When decisions are made by a level of government that put the health of our residents at risk in this region then that’s one of them.”
In a letter posted to the Municipality of Wood Buffalo’s website in September, both Mayor Scott and Fire Chief Jody Butz voiced their concerns over the change.
Those concerns, Scott says, went unanswered.
“My council is opposed. I refuse to accept the decision by AHS that we’ve been fighting for seven months along with several colleagues in this province.”
- READ MORE: Group of mayors claim Alberta's consolidated EMS dispatch has led to errors, delayed response times
“Last night we made what I consider to be a strong decision and we stand by it,” said Scott.
Butz says his office will be instructing his staff to stop transferring EMS calls into AHS within the next 24 hours.
The fire chief says the biggest problem with Alberta’s new consolidated dispatch system is the local addressing.
“Their system does not allow us to participate in anything, like a supervised transfer or a co-evaluation,” he said. “We had a young caller, called 911 for a friend. That young caller was transferred across this province three different times. That young caller had to give their address six different times.”
Butz says thanks to last night’s decision by council the problems created by the provincial dispatch consolidation will be alleviated.
“The 911 dispatcher is the same dispatcher that’s going to continue with that caller to the call evaluation and then a team in the same room is gonna dispatch those resources simultaneously.”
“We will reduce minutes, not second, minutes,” said Butz. “By our system that we’ve been doing since 1979.”
Mayor Scott meanwhile says the issue, as well as his council’s decision, is worth the risks.
“People have asked me as the mayor whether I’m concerned that we may be removed as a council, or I may be removed as mayor,” he said. “I challenge the provincial government to remove me as the mayor. I believe in this cause enough that I stand by it completely.”
Scott hopes the province reconsiders its changes to the EMS dispatch system.
“We’ve provided the facts,” he said. “When we provided the facts we were met with tunnel vision. The government simply proceeded.”
According to Scott, Wood Buffalo council talked to Alberta Health Minister Tyler Shandro and sent letters to Premiere Jason Kenney about its concerns.
“We engaged in every way possible and we have been met with total resistance,” said Scott. “Today we are sending what I believe is a strong message back as a council.”
WOOD BUFFALO MLA TANY YAO RESPONSE
In a written statement to CTV News Edmonton, Wood Buffalo MLA Tany Yao said: "I don’t necessarily support the methodology used by the (Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo) as I do have concerns about the legalities behind this and the implications on future contract negotiations for provincial contracts."
The statement continued: "I do support our municipality’s notion that Fort McMurray desires a higher quality of services by AHS. The answers I received on this issue from AHS weren’t satisfactory to me. This is reflective of the perceived lack of support Fort McMurray has in regards to AHS. We have fewer obstetricians and pediatricians and other health specialists than other communities, and are looking for assurances that AHS is trying to support our community in its health needs."
Chief paramedic and senior provincial director for AHS EMS, Darren Sandbeck told CTV News Edmonton in a written statement that Alberta Health Services has been using a centralized dispatch system for more than two-thirds of the province for the past decade.
"We are concerned that the intention signaled by the municipality could adversely affect patient care. We’re currently seeking further information," said Sandbeck.
Sandbeck adds that no information has been shared with him that shows that a centralized dispatch has resulted in negative outcomes or response delays.
"The municipality has not provided any evidence to AHS to suggest that the recent consolidation of EMS dispatch has led to any delays or inappropriate responses. In addition, the municipality has not provided any information that would back up their public claims that they are having to intervene in specific EMS calls due to integration of dispatch."
According to Sandbeck, AHS has looked into every event that has been raised to date, saying: "There have been no issues or intervention required by the municipality."
"AHS EMS dispatch also has access to exactly the same mapping and location data as the municipalities did prior to transition," said Sandbeck. "Ambulance services in each community are being delivered by the same local paramedics who have always provided this service. These local professionals know the streets, locations and neighbourhoods and will continue working with EMS dispatch to respond to any emergency in every local community."
"Our provincial dispatch system works well," said Sandbeck. "It is effective and it has the best interests of all Albertans at heart."
CTV News Edmonton has reached out to Minister Shandro's office, but had not heard back by time of publishing.