Rural dispatch needs to improve

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Every second counts in an emergency.

Whether it’s a heart attack, stroke, accident, or — like in MD of Foothills resident Mike Olfert’s case — a severe allergic reaction, time is of the essence when someone’s life hangs in the balance.

A perfect storm of errors caused delay in getting paramedics to Olfert and getting him to a hospital. First, the emergency call went to Northern 911 because it was made from a VoIP phone. Then EMS dispatch couldn’t verify the address for several minutes because the location was reported as Okotoks rather than the MD.

It took an hour and 52 minutes from when Northern 911 transferred the call to Foothills 911 until Olfert arrived at South Health Campus hospital. He was treated and is now healthy, but it was a close call.

Olfert’s family could have taken him to either High River Hospital or South Health Campus in a fraction of the time. But, this comes with its own risks if his condition had worsened on the way.

Something needs to be done.

It’s not about the paramedics, who Olfert himself credits as miracle workers.

It’s about dispatch and response times.

Yes, Olfert lives on an acreage south of Okotoks, and rural response times are expected to be longer than calls from within urban town or city limits.

The main concern stems from a lack of knowledge of the area by EMS dispatch at the South Calgary Centre, where the computer couldn’t locate Clear Mountain Drive. When Foothills 911 took the call, operators and the CAD system both knew the address was in the MD.

The Province continues to say it’s monitoring the situation and working with Foothills Regional Emergency Services Commission to improve communications, but there needs to be action sooner than later.

One more minute could have turned this life-saving story into a nightmare.

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