Province will continue with EMS dispatch consolidation
Health: Provincial report on ambulance service released Monday
By: Don Patterson
| Posted: Wednesday, Mar 06, 2013 01:43 pm
The Alberta government is going to complete work to centralize
dispatch for provincial ambulance services more than two years after it was put on hold due to concerns with the system.
This was a key recommendation in an Health Quality Council of Alberta (HQCA) report on Alberta’s ground ambulance services released by Alberta’s Health minister on Monday afternoon. The report lists five recommendations encompassing 16 individual steps to improve Emergency Medical Services (EMS) in the province.
Alberta Health Minister Fred Horne said the government accepts all the recommendations and will resume dispatch centralization.
“It’s not operating as a fully consolidated system, so what we’re looking to do is finish what we started,” he said.
Horne called for a comprehensive review of EMS services over
concerns arising after responsibility for ambulances was handed over to Alberta Health Services (AHS) in 2009.
In additional to centralizing
dispatch, other recommendations in the report include legislated operating standards for 911 call centres and setting a plan for EMS service taking into account the needs of urban, rural and remote areas in the province.
Horne said the report’s
recommendations will improve ambulance services if implemented properly.
Horne has now directed AHS to develop a plan for how it will implement the recommendations and submit it by March 31.
In addition to the recommendations in the report, Horne is also asking AHS to find ways to
minimize the time ambulances spend waiting at hospitals. He has also directed AHS to look at ways to limit the use of ambulances for non-emergency inter-facility
Prior to the hand-over of EMS services from municipalities to AHS, there were 35 different dispatch centres across Alberta. The Province began consolidating them in three locations – Peace River, Edmonton and Calgary – but this process was put on hold in 2010 after groups, including the Foothills Regional Emergency Services Commission (FRESC), spoke out in opposition to the transition. The groups’ concerns included dispatchers in Calgary who don’t understand rural addresses and legal land descriptions, resulting in delays in service and having foothills ambulances being tied up on calls in Calgary.
FRESC asked for dispatch
services to be returned to its facility in Black Diamond. However, with the announcement the Province is proceeding with the consolidation of dispatch services, FRESC chairman Ed Sands said he hopes it moves quickly because it’s important to its financial future.
“Get on with it,” he said.
FRESC lost a portion of its funding when it was stripped of its ambulance dispatch service.
He said some communities will not be able to financially support 911 call centres once they lose responsibility for ambulance dispatch and FRESC is now hoping to take over fire and peace officer dispatch for other communities to help offset its operating costs. FRESC also handles dispatch for fire departments in the foothills area.
Sands said he’s still reviewing the report, but he doesn’t have any major problems with it at this point.
He said address and mapping information provided to ambulance crews and dispatchers must be up to date, however, he would have liked to see more on how to reduce the impact of facility transfers on foothills ambulances.
The CEO of the health quality council said the partial consolidation of EMS dispatch services has had a negative impact on the province’s EMS system.
“The concept of consolidation was itself not the problem, the problem is it only got partially done,” said Dr. John Cowell.
Cowell said 12 dispatch centres are currently outside the AHS system, resulting in a patchwork system unable to track and monitor all ambulances in the province.
He said dispatch centres in one area can’t always track ambulances located in another area. Cowell said this has led to confusing, time consuming and dangerous situations where a dispatch centre in one area has had to call one in another area to get an ambulance sent to an emergency.
He said there needs to be appropriate infrastructure to support the operation of dispatch services, particularly up to date mapping information for dispatchers and ambulances crews.
AHS has taken a number of steps to address concerns over addressing.
Nick Thain, AHS director of suburban and rural clinical EMS operations, said the mobile computers on all ambulances now have mapping software using the most up to date information from municipalities. As well, Thain said dispatchers working in Calgary are dedicated specifically to either rural or metropolitan calls.