EMS report to be released Monday
Health: AHS working to address ambulance issues
By: Don Patterson
| Posted: Friday, Mar 01, 2013 06:53 pm
An anticipated report outlining the result of an investigation into provincial ambulance services will be made public on Monday.
Alberta Health Minister Fred Horne will release a report from the Alberta Health Quality Council (HQCA) reviewing Emergency Medical Services (EMS) since they were centralized with Alberta Health Services. The report came after the Foothills Regional Emergency Services Commission (FRESC) raised concerns over the centralization of dispatch for southern Alberta in Calgary.
When members of FRESC met with the council late last year they asked for ambulance dispatch to be handed back to them.
It is not known if that will be an outcome of the investigation.
The report is coming out later than expected, as it was initially to be released sometime in November or December.
FRESC chairman Ed Sands, an Okotoks town councillor, said it’s good news the report is finally being released.
“Looking forward to the report and the (FRESC) board is very interested in seeing the results,” he said.
The HQCA passed the report on to the minister on Jan. 31. Council spokesperson Lisa Brake would not commentNot? on the contents of the report said it’s the minister’s decision when to release it.
In early 2012 the health minister asked the HQCA to look into the operations of ground ambulance services.
One of the main reasons for the investigation was concern over centralizing the dispatch for ambulances from FRESC to the City of Calgary Public Safety Communications (PSC) in 2009.
Soon after dispatch was turned over to Calgary FRESC officials raised the alarm regarding delays in ambulance response times. One of the reasons for delayed response was dispatchers in the city didn’t understand rural addresses and legal land descriptions.
A second problem raised is ambulances based in the foothills area have been tied up on calls in Calgary resulting in a lack of coverage in the rural areas.
Mike Luchia, FRESC interim executive director, said steps have been taken to try to address the problems and added although there has not been marked improvement in the situation it hasn’t gotten worse either.
When an emergency call for an ambulance comes in to the FRESC dispatch centre in Black Diamond, FRESC personnel will transfer the call the Calgary PSC. FRESC personnel will then remain on the line to provide assistance with addresses and directions.
When an emergency call comes in and an ambulance either isn’t available or is too far away from the scene, local fire personnel will be sent as a first response.
“Sometimes all the ambulances are out of the area so the fire first responses are required more often,” he said.
Nick Thain, AHS director of suburban and rural clinical EMS operations, said a number of steps have already been taken to address FRESC’s concerns.
He said the mobile computers on all ambulances now have improved mapping software using the most up to date information from municipalities. As well, Thain said dispatchers working in Calgary are dedicated specifically to rural or metropolitan calls.
“We’re building some expertise in the dispatch centre to ensure local area knowledge,” he said.
Thain acknowledged there are times ambulances in the foothills are sent to respond to calls in the city. However, he said they have implemented a practice used by the former FREMS in this situation.
If an ambulance is called out if its regular service area, a second is moved to a staging location nearby in the event of an emergency. For example, under the former FREMS system, if an ambulance from Black Diamond was out of the area an ambulance from Okotoks was moved to the Big Rock in case of an emergency. Now, Thain said ambulances in Calgary can be stationed in or near Okotoks as needed.
“We do exactly the same thing, biggie sized,” he said.