Representatives of Alberta Health Services (AHS) attended the June 21 Airdrie City council meeting to address concerns regarding the Provincial takeover of ambulance service, effective July 1.
“We will ensure residents continue to receive safe, quality and timely care,” said Darren Sandbeck, operations director for Calgary and Central Zones Emergency Medical Services.
“Patients will continue to see the quality service they are used to.”
Sandbeck assured council the city will continue to be covered by three 24-hour ambulances and one 12-hour peak time ambulance to ensure optimal coverage. During busy times, Sandbeck said high priority coverage and an available fleet of spare units will ensure Airdrie is covered by at least one ambulance at all times. The service will include 20 paramedics and eight EMTs; eight of those staff are former Airdrie Emergency Services (AES) members. According to Sandbeck, 42 AES members are interested in casual employment with AHS.
The AHS main response station will operate from 541 Kingsview Way SE. Sandbeck said AHS is looking into building a west side station in the coming months.
“The most disturbing part to me is that the bulk of the population is on the west side of Airdrie and the tracks have challenged Airdrie for many years,” said Alderman Marlene Weaver.
“I have an incredibly difficult time understanding how having two ambulance halls and three fire halls is going to be cost effective. I just can’t understand it. I have been on council for nine years and one of my priorities when I started was to have an ambulance service on the west side. Finally, in 2010 we have a fire hall on the west side but not an ambulance. Nine years of preaching, praying and begging can be taken away because someone thinks they can do it more cost effectively.”
“We understand the challenges the tracks pose to us and we will consider that as we look for somewhere to build,” said Sandbeck.
“The west side station is a priority for us. We are actively and aggressively looking for space.”
Mayor Linda Bruce stated her concerns about the city’s unrelenting growth.
“We had 11.65 per cent growth last year,” she said.
“My concern is your plan for growth. We don’t anticipate that growth will decrease. I am very concerned about the needs of the community going forward. We have to be a high priority. Our growth is astronomical in relation to other communities in the area.”
Sandbeck said Airdrie would be considered one of six “red zones” in the area.
“In Calgary Metro, 46 ambulances are available to cover those areas,” he said.
“A very detailed system states a plan to ensure there are ambulances in those red zones at all times.”
Bruce said fire personnel currently back up serious medical emergencies and asked how AHS will deal with life and death situations during busy times when there may be only one ambulance in the city.
“We would see backing up EMS with EMS,” said Sandbeck.
Dr. Andy Anton, medical director for the Calgary Zone, said early defibulation and CPR are critical in serious cases such as a heart attack.
“Currently in Calgary, fire pumps arrive first on the scene 30 per cent of the time and in cardiac arrest, that makes a significant difference,” he said.
“Hopefully in the future, we can revisit fire responding as back up.”
Alderman Kelly Hegg asked if AHS anticipates a reduction in service during the transition on July 1.
“We don’t anticipate any reduction at all,” said Rick Stanger, manager and transition lead, Metro Operations Calgary Zone.
“We use the same communications centre Airdrie uses and they will know when calls will be directed to the new facility.”
Alderman Kelly Hegg was also concerned about the training of staff who are not familiar with the area.
“There are two people from AES with 20 years experience who will be conducting very detailed geographical orientations,” said Sandbeck. “We also have mobile data terminals with electronic maps and GPS in every ambulance to get people where they need to go when calls come in.”
Siemens asked about AHS’ goal in terms of response times.
“We do not have stated goals,” said Sandbeck. “We are working towards patient outcomes. The goal is to get to time-critical calls as soon as possible.”
Sandbeck said AHS is currently working on protocols of service that will be consistent across the province.
Siemens also asked if the Airdrie staff will be permanently stationed in the city or if they will be shared among Calgary stations.
“In our services, we had local fellas looking after local people and they developed relationships,” said Siemens.
Sandbeck said AHS will try to get “home units” back to the community as soon as possible.
“With our deployment model, the closest ambulance to the call will go to that call, so an Airdrie ambulance could be in the city at a hospital dropping someone off and they would take a call in that area. However, our priority is to get those community resources back to the community as soon as we can,” he said.
Sandbeck also assured council AHS will continue the ongoing relationship with other public safety partners including the RCMP and Airdrie Fire Department.
“We want to keep those relationships intact and develop them further,” said Sandbeck.
Alderman Fred Burley said despite AHS’ assurances, July 1 will be a disappointing day in the history of Airdrie.
“Integrated service was never once given a chance,” he said. “You claim the service will stay the same, council and the residents of Airdrie will hold you to that.”
“We have been harsh at times tonight and I don’t apologize for that, that is how we feel,” she said. “What irked me the most about this whole situation is we believed we were entering a situation where the Province had respect for an integrated service. The letters we were getting showed that you didn’t, so now we have to ask ourselves, ‘Can we continue to trust our working relationship?’
“We have a gold standard of service and we are handing that over to you and we hope you can uphold that. As of the end of June, you will be accountable to the taxpayers of Airdrie.”