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Coaldale announces plan to “take back” control of ambulance service

Posted on September 22, 2022 by Sunny South News

By Erika Mathieu
Sunny South News

The current delivery model for the Town’s emergency medical services (EMS) under Alberta Health Services, has Coaldale residents and leaders frustrated.

Joined by the Coaldale and District Emergency services (CDES) team, town council, and UCP candidate Travis Toews, Mayor Jack Van Rijn addressed the public on the morning of Sept. 13 at the Coaldale Fire Hall.

Before 2010, the Town was responsible for providing its own EMS. Since then, the town has transitioned to a “direct delivery” agreement with AHS. Before the transition, AHS ensured the Town the level of service would not change under the new direct delivery model. However, Van Rijn said this just isn’t the case.

“Unfortunately, this transition has resulted in nothing but a decrease in service levels,” said Van Rijn.

The main cause for concern is the sharp increase in code red events in Coaldale. This is a situation which occurs when a medical call is received and there are no available ambulances available for dispatch. As the municipality’s population and demands for service calls have increased, service levels have not kept up. Van Rijn said the responsibility has fallen on firefighters to provide medical services while waiting for an ambulance to arrive from outside of the area. More frequently in recent years, it is common for ambulances to be dispatched from neighbouring communities, resulting in over an hour-long wait time in some cases, from towns as far as Brooks.

Van Rijn said AHS’s “own data (shows) Coaldale has seen a 100 per cent increase in its response time in life-saving events.”

Van Rijn went on to say the current Core-flex scheduling arrangement employed by Coaldale AHS’s EMS is, “not working,” and has prompted changes to working hours for paramedics, who are more commonly responding to calls during the day from their homes.

“We’ve seen paramedic burnout and ambulances being timed out, so they are out of service and unavailable to respond.”

When a few crucial moments can determine the outcome of a call, experts agree time is one of the most valuable resources. During the announcement, Van Rijn expressed Coaldale’s intention to transition back to a service provider contract with AHS EMS. “We are simply asking for any opportunity to do so,” he said.

As the race for a new Alberta premier continues, candidate Travis Toews said, “AHS centralization has resulted in additional bureaucracy and slower response times,” and added he would “consider” decentralization if elected head of the UCP government. In a press release, Toews’ camp said:

“Toews will implement the two policies passed by UCP members to improve EMS, first by expanding their scope of practice which would permit paramedics to assess and treat non-emergency situations on site without needing to transfer patients to emergency departments.”

“If elected leader, I would be supportive of municipalities who want to take back responsibility for EMS to better serve their communities,” said Toews.

Coaldale is currently the only municipality requesting a change to its ambulance service model at this time. Despite AHS having direct control over the contract, AHS has indicated a willingness to work with the Town to transition its Ambulance Service back to a ‘service provider’ model pending the Minister of Health’s approval.

The Town of Coaldale has confirmed a meeting date has been set with Mr. Copping in the coming weeks.

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