Four cities in Alberta have lodged a joint complaint with the province’s ombudsman over the UCP government’s decision to cede regional ambulance transport to Alberta Health Services.
“It is unacceptable that we are risking people’s lives,” Calgary Mayor Nahid Nenshi said in an email Wednesday.
“We have looked at the data and listened to the forerunners and we know that this remittance system cannot meet the needs of patients in our cities.
Four mayors have spoken out against integration since July 2020.
But despite their concerns, Alberta Health Services (AHS) officially brought in municipality-controlled operations in January 2021 at three AHS centers in the regional municipality of Calgary, Lethbridge, Red Deer and Wood Buffalo.
The move was one of several recommendations made by external consultants Ernst and Young during the review of the AHS, which set the stage for a number of cost-cutting measures, including the privatization of some health services.
The consolidation will save millions of people every year and patients will not notice the difference, AHS said.
But first responder groups, such as the Coalition representing Calgary firefighters, have raised concerns that there will be a delay in organized responses.
Prior to the consolidation, firefighters were mostly getting calls in cities like Calgary and Red Deer, and coordinated between EMS, firefighters and police.
Patient outcomes have suffered, Mayers says
As the centers are chromed, four municipal mayors say there are significant problems with the delivery of the service, which has affected patients’ health and safety outcomes in their areas – and some delays have been reported within the first day of change.
Wood Buffalo Regional Municipality estimates that emergency services personnel must intervene in one of five calls in the first few weeks to prevent AHS delays, and in some cases patients have been moved multiple times or first responders have been sent to the wrong location.
In another incident, the mayor said the AHS suffered an “unhealthy” situation where an ambulance was unavailable, but the local dispatch center was not notified – firefighters could be mobilized to help.
“As the province has forced a consolidated dispatch system on our communities, we have seen the deterioration of ambulance dispatch,” said Wood Buffalo Mayor Dan Scott.
“Our communities have tried every means to communicate with the government and strongly dispute the effectiveness of this system, but our calls for a third party review have not been answered,” Red Deer Mayor Tara Weir said.
“We will not abandon the fight we know is in the interest of patient safety.”
Former Health Minister Tyler Shandro said in October 2020 that he had reviewed the situation and allowed the AHS to proceed.
Alberta’s Ombudsman Marianne Ryan provides oversight of provincial government agencies, municipalities and other authorities and makes recommendations to address issues.
The Ombudsman has reached out to the Office to confirm whether the complaint is being investigated.
The AHS was aware that the complaint was being filed in a statement earlier this month.
“The remittance services were successfully cropped seven months ago, and the system is working as expected,” read a statement to the Health Authority in early October.