In many respects, the manner in which Alberta Health Services (AHS) and the PC Government have handled Airdrie’s integrated fire and ambulance service perfectly sums up the last two-plus years of health care management in Alberta… they have taken one of the few health care operations not in crisis, and turned it into one.
To briefly recap, upon being created by Minister (Ron) Liepert and without any consultation, Alberta Health Services decided to centralize ambulance service delivery across the province. At first it was promised that communities with integrated fire and ambulance services, like Airdrie, would not have their services compromised.
Shortly thereafter, however, Airdrie began receiving threatening letters from AHS stating that Airdrie was not living up to AHS’ newly minted safety standards. Airdrie pointed to its sterling safety record to no avail. AHS continued to threaten to have Airdrie forced to divest itself of its service if it did not invest tens of millions in new staff and equipment. City council eventually felt forced into divesting.
At that point, the mayor and myself intervened and arranged a meeting between the City and (Health) Minister (Gene) Zwozdesky. We explained the situation. We reiterated how losing the integrated service would cost Alberta and Airdrie taxpayers millions of dollars in duplication. We outlined the five-star safety statistics of the service. The minister appeared to listen, took down notes, made every indication that Airdrie’s integrated service was wonderful and would be left alone, and then failed to follow up with AHS. Now the line coming from AHS is that Airdrie ‘chose’ to divest itself of its integrated service as it is unable to meet the new AHS standard.
Then in a truly ironic twist, a recent Calgary Herald report found that since AHS has taken over ambulance service delivery in Calgary unacceptable ambulance response times have occurred 35 per cent of the time (up from 22 per cent the year before). This after AHS based its condemnation of Airdrie’s service on the 0.08 per cent of times when Airdrie didn’t have an ambulance at the dispatch station and either had to redirect an ambulance from a less serious call in the city or ask for a Calgary ambulance to cover (a favour Airdrie has reciprocated for Calgary on a far more regular basis). Thirty-five per cent versus 0.08 per cent! It would be hysterical if it wasn’t so serious an issue.
Well, enough is enough. AHS has acted unreasonably and incompetently, and just won’t admit it as it is apparently more concerned with building up a bureaucratic fiefdom than with preserving an incredibly safe, cost-efficient and community-delivered ambulance service.
This week, I will be meeting with Airdrie City council on this issue. My advice will be to call the bluff of AHS. I believe Airdrie should withdraw its decision to divest themselves of our integrated fire and ambulance service and continue delivering it in the same way they have to this point in time.
AHS says it’s our City’s decision on whether or not to divest. I have been informed by the minister’s office that the government’s position is that Airdrie EMS is to be left alone. Well then, let’s leave it alone. And if threatening letters from AHS start arriving again, the City can say we’ll change our system and service when AHS’ 35 per cent unacceptable response rate approaches our 0.08 per cent. Until then, AHS should spend its time fixing things that are actually broken in our health care system. It shouldn’t have too much trouble filling its to-do lists. Airdrie EMS is a community gem – let’s not allow a handful of AHS bureaucrats to take it away from us. After all, AHS wouldn’t contradict the heath minister’s instruction to leave Airdrie EMS alone would it?