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Chief West says province’s ambulance turnaround targets “lofty”, but doable

Posted on May 3, 2023 by Sunny South News

By Erika Mathieu
Sunny South News

Director of Emergency Services for the Town of Picture Butte Frank West said the province’s 45 minute goal for ambulance turnaround will require targeted collaboration between agencies to meet, but that it was time for the national benchmark to be adopted and pushed in Alberta.

During the April 20 meeting of Picture Butte Council, West presented the Director of Emergency Services report touting a number of updates including the recent implementation of the province’s goal to get ambulances back out into the community faster and aim to have patients safely handed over to emergency department teams within 45 minutes. The benchmark is not a directive per se, but rather a “target” which falls in line with national benchmarks, said West.

West said overall he is hearing reports that the effort has been going, “Very well,” in other parts of Alberta.

“It’s been very successful in Calgary,” since it began nearly two months ago, and in Medicine Hat shortly thereafter.

West said, “they’re seeing an increase in ambulance revenue. I can’t put a number to it but the wording used was ‘significant’.”

West said the system was rolled out in Lethbridge over the past two weeks and has so far been “challenging” due to the strained capacity in the hospital system, but added, “I think it will just take a little bit more effort than it has in those other centres,” to make it work.

“The first couple days, it went really smooth, but then our crews again, were in for a three-four hour delay over the weekend. It’s a big system, and a big ship takes time to turn. But I think we will come out of this process in much better shape.”

West told SSN, “I think you’ll see the 45 minute ambulance turn around goal the province has set for our EMS system is a lofty goal, but it is a benchmark we need in Alberta,” and added “it is going to take some collaboration between EMS, between the hospital department and all of our care facilities,” to get the ambulance and first responders back into the community.

Council received correspondence from the government as well with news that the province has opted to extend the variance to the ground ambulance regulation, allowing EMR (emergency medical responders) staff to continue working on frontline ambulance and they’ve even expanded the roles and capabilities.

For the past year (EMRs) roles were expanded slightly but still limited to driving the ambulance. Now EMRs will be permitted to practice medicine again under the extended variance which will be in place until March 31, 2026.

West said, “I am hopeful that this is the provincial government’s way of admitting a mistake, and slowly, quietly, just rolling this change back.”

“I feel like it’s a win for us as well because council and myself both advocated for this change. Either way, even if we just get another three years (with the extended variance) [it’s] a win for us to be able to do more.”

West told council the province has allocated additional funding to emergency services as a result of the 2022 budget surplus. West said the province made the decision to allocate several million dollars into the health care system by upgrading ambulances.

“Here in Picture Butte, we were the recipient of $103,000 in capital funding for upgrades to both those (ambulance) units.”

Upgrades include a powered stretcher system which will replace the system for several decades which requires the manual loading and lifting of stretchers. West said without funding, the system cost came in at an additional $70,000 and was passed on due to the cost.

West said “our guys aren’t scared of a little manual labour, but when there’s funding on the table, we’ll absolutely take it,” adding to Council that the existing ambulance units will be retro-fitted with the powered stretcher system.

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