MD raising concerns over emergency dispatch system
Foothills: Council requests meeting with Alberta Health minister
Wednesday, Mar 30, 2011 04:53 pm
In response to concerns raised by the Foothills MD council, Alberta’s health minister has said he is looking into concerns about ambulance wait times for residents in the rural municipality.
The promise came about through a private meeting March 23 between Alberta Health Minister Gene Zwozdesky and MD of Foothills Coun. Suzanne Oel.
Oel requested to meet with the minister last week during the Alberta Association of Municipal Districts and Counties (AAMDC) convention to discuss issues brought to her by MD residents about the timeliness of ambulances in getting to their residences.
“During that meeting, I presented some of the concerns and as a result of that, we are looking forward to working actively on solutions with (Alberta Health and Wellness),” said Oel. “The health minister has people looking into it and he has a timeline to address it. He is committed to his response.”
Oel, who also represents the MD on the board for the Foothills Regional Emergency Services Commission (FRESC), brought to the meeting concerns raised to her as both a councillor and board member.
“As a commission we are aware of how things are operating, and as the MD of Foothills we get concerns expressed to us. Bringing those concerns forward is what has resulted here,” she said.
Oel was unable to discuss the specific concerns brought to her by MD residents, as the information is protected under privacy legislation.
MD Coun. Barb Castell, who was also present at the meeting, said the main concern discussed was slow response time for ambulances in getting to homes in the MD.
“That was our issue, and he said that he would deal with it,” said Castell. “The Minister of Health has promised to look into this for us, and find out how he can solve this… We felt good about the meeting, and we really don’t want to jeopardize what he has told us.”
A request for comment from Health Minister Gene Zwozdesky was not returned by the time the Western Wheel went to press on Tuesday.
Problems facing the Foothills Regional Emergency Medical Service (FREMS) have escalated for the rural ambulance service since a new dispatch centre for southern Alberta opened in Calgary in October 2009. Prior to that, FREMS handled the dispatch for ambulances in its own call centre in Black Diamond.
The move to replace the Black Diamond call centre with the one in Calgary came about as part of Alberta Health Services’ (AHS) plan to centralize ambulance dispatch centres in Peace River, Edmonton and Calgary.
The main issue arising during the bumpy transition of services was problems with city dispatchers understanding rural addresses and directing ambulances.
Jim Garland, executive director EMS dispatch for AHS in Edmonton, said there have only been two issues since October last year regarding location of addresses.
“One of the issues was raised by the FREMS group, and another issue was raised by our own operational staff,” said Garland. “Both of those have been addressed, so I’m not sure where the issues (brought forward by the MD councillors) have come from.”
Garland said there were issues in the past with locating rural addresses, but changes to the dispatch centre in Calgary, including the deployment last March of mobile data terminals with GPS electronic mapping “seemed to resolve most of the issues.”
Last week, Airdrie-Chestermere MLA Rob Anderson tabled in the Alberta legislature an AHS document showing a 33 per cent increase in ambulance response times for urgent calls in Airdrie since AHS took over services in July.
According to AHS, life-threatening calls, categorized as Delta, saw an increase of two minutes and 10 seconds, 90 per cent of the time, between July and December 2010 compared with the same period the year before. The most serious calls, categorized as Echo calls, increased by one minute, 19 seconds during the same time period.