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Alberta Health Services Rolling Out Ten Point Plan For Emergency Services

Health Minister Jason Copping announced January 24 that the Alberta government is launching a provincial emergency medical services advisory committee. The committee’s purpose is to provide immediate and long-term recommendations that will highlight an updated provincial EMS service plan. The advisory committee will be co-chaired by United Conservative Party (UCP) Highwood MLA, R.J. Sigurdson, and Tracy Allard, MLA for Grande Prairie, by the end of May the committee will provide recommendations to the Health Minister. The committee will include contracted ambulance operators, unions representing paramedics, municipal representatives and Indigenous community representatives. According to Minister Copping, members will collaborate, identify concerns, provide advice and inform a new provincial EMS service plan.

In a press release on January 24, Copping stated, “Alberta’s government has been supportive of EMS throughout the pandemic. As we approach the peak of Omicron cases, we know the EMS system is seeing significant strain, which impacts service. We recognize this is a challenge and are taking immediate steps to improve emergency care access while we explore longer-term solutions.”

“Responding to medical emergencies is a critical need for all Albertans. I am honoured to have this opportunity to make a difference and improve the system for the long term. I look forward to working as co-chair on this committee and taking swift action on this matter,” stated Tracy Allard, co-chair, Provincial EMS Advisory Committee, and MLA for Grande Prairie.

“Thank you to the remarkable group of leaders who have agreed to serve on the advisory committee. They genuinely care about EMS staff and every Albertan and the communities they serve. Albertans expect that when they call 911 in their time of greatest need, EMS will always answer. The committee’s goal will be focused around ensuring and improving service to Albertans while supporting the most critical piece of that equation: our EMS staff across all of Alberta. I look forward to rolling up my sleeves and getting to work,” said R.J. Sigurdson, co-chair, Provincial EMS Advisory Committee, and MLA for Highwood.

In a follow-up statement to Monday’s announcement, Health Sciences Association of Alberta (HSAA) President, Mike Parker commented, “It is long past time an Alberta government got to work on solving the EMS crisis in Alberta. Our advocacy to expose the state of EMS by reporting red alerts has made the need for action clear. HSAA has been asked to come to the table to come up with solutions. As the experts in the delivery of emergency medical services we are more than willing to get to work. However, to be clear, HSAA will not be recommending or supportive of any privatization efforts. My focus throughout this process will be the health of Albertans and ensuring care is there when they need it. Every dollar needs to be spent on patient care – not profits for private contractors.”

While the focus of the advisory committee is to create a sustainable long-term EMS service plan, Alberta Health Services (AHS) will be rolling out a 10-point plan that will be implemented throughout the province in the short term.

Of the ten points, five have already been implemented or started, they are; hiring more paramedics, launching pilot projects to manage non-emergency inter-facility transfers, initiating an ‘hours of work’ project to help ease staff fatigue, transferring low priority calls to other agencies in consultation with EMS physicians and stopping the automatic dispatch of ambulances to motor vehicle collisions that don’t have injuries.

Five additional actions are coming in the future; creating a new integrated operations centre in Calgary, bringing paramedic leads and hospital staff together to improve integration, movement of resources and flow of patients, evaluation by an emergency communications officer to determine if an ambulance from out of area, though it may be closest to a 911 call, is most appropriate to respond, implementing a pilot project in Red Deer that will manage most patient transfers between facilities with dedicated transfer units, freeing up ambulances to handle emergency calls, allowing ambulances to be preempted from assignments, instead of being automatically dispatched when a 911 call is received, to ensure more ambulances are available for critical patients, and developing a strategic provincial service plan for EMS delivery in the province.

The province will be putting out a request for proposals to conduct a third-party review of Alberta’s provincewide EMS dispatch system in February. The purpose of an objective review by external health system experts will be to give insights on how to address ongoing pressures and improve effectiveness and efficiency through best practices. How to provide the best outcomes for Albertans who call 911 during a medical event is the final goal.

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