Alberta is consolidating all remaining municipally run emergency medical service dispatch call sites in a move that it says will save money and improve patient care, according to an Alberta Health Services news release issued Tuesday.
The change will affect EMS 911 dispatch services in Calgary, Lethbridge, Red Deer and the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo.
AHS has been running a dispatch system for the rest of the province since 2009.
It said the consolidation will allow the EMS system to send the nearest available ambulance to a patient regardless of geographic boundaries.
The government also said it will save more than $6 million per year.
Officials said the change that will take place over the next six months will not affect the local dispatch of municipal fire, police and medical first response services.
“The provincial EMS dispatch system allows for better co-ordination of all EMS resources, including ground ambulances, and air resources, and reliable response times,” Health Minister Tyler Shandro said in a release Tuesday.
Dr. Verna Yiu, AHS president and CEO, said consolidation is the right decision for any Albertan needing emergency medical care.
When the transition is complete, EMS calls will be handled by AHS EMS provincial communications centres in Peace River, Edmonton and Calgary.
Lethbridge IAFF Local 237, which represents paramedics and firefighters, said Tuesday that the loss of local EMS dispatch is a huge blow to the city.
“Now when you call 911, your EMS call will be processed in Calgary. The likelihood of address errors ambulances being sent to the wrong location will rise,” it tweeted.
The ability for Ambulance crews to request assistance from fire / police will be delayed. This is a huge safety concern for our first responders . When they request help they need it and a delay is not appropriate.
— LethbridgeFireLocal (@IAFFLocal237) August 4, 2020
The Calgary Firefighters Association also tweeted its opposition to the decision Tuesday.
“At a time when first responders are already stretched to the limits, this move by AHS will put the lives of Calgarians further at risk. We rely on our EMS partners to assist us day and night on everything from car crashes to fires to drownings,” the association said.
“Seconds matter during emergencies and anything that increases response times is both callous and incredibly irresponsible. We can’t in good faith stay quiet about this decision.”
AHS said that callers to 911 will not notice any change.
AHS said it plans to hire 25 new emergency communications officers and current municipal employees will be encouraged to apply.
– With files from Global News’ Kaylen Small
© 2020 The Canadian Press