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EMS dispatch supports high quality patient care

When it comes to providing high quality emergency medical services (EMS) in Alberta, patient safety is at the core of every decision we make, from the time of a 911 call, to the time we hand over patient care at a healthcare facility.

Suggestions this week that patient care is at risk as a result of changes to the way Alberta Health Services (AHS) dispatches ambulances, are absolutely not true.

In a news release, the Foothills Regional Emergency Services Commission (FRESC) said AHS’ provincial dispatch model is causing response delays and threatening patient safety. There is no evidence to support this, but we do understand the stress communities can experience when they feel their care may have been compromised.

AHS EMS leadership is providing assurances that patients continue to receive the same high quality care in every community. There is no risk to patient safety or care. Patients remain at the centre of all we do.

We have offered to meet with FRESC, and are reaching out to other community leaders, to help better understand their concerns and to allow us to explain how the province-wide dispatch system is designed to improve access to EMS services across Alberta.

Since 2009, AHS has been improving the way ambulances are dispatched. Today, a province-wide system supports every ambulance in every community using state-of-the-art technology and the most up-to-date medical protocols.

This allows us to ensure calls are answered quickly and, because all of our specially trained emergency communications officers (ECO) can see every ambulance in real time, we can also send the closest available unit to every emergency. It’s a very similar system to the way RCMP is dispatched to public safety emergencies across the province.

Millions of events have been successfully supported since this transition and our publicly reported time to dispatch data shows that we consistently dispatch ambulances in less than 90 seconds, 90 per cent of the time and in less than 45 seconds, 50 per cent of the time.   

We are always looking for ways to improve the care we provide which is why we review every issue brought to our attention.

It’s important to understand that the only change to dispatch services in FRESC’s coverage area relates to the medical first response (MFR) support – such as firefighters who attend some medical calls alongside EMS staff - not ambulances. EMS responds to every medical emergency but MFR partners, like fire departments, support us by providing on-scene assistance when required.

Prior to the transition to the provincial model, FRESC was notified every time an ambulance was dispatched in their coverage area. Today, AHS ECOs determine if MFR support is required first, based on the types of calls our MFR partners have agreed to support. As a result, FRESC is only notified when MFR is required to support EMS.

We know that local fire services are vital resources in the community and this process helps us ensure they are being used appropriately.

AHS EMS values its partnerships with these agencies. If there is a way to improve this part of the process, we will do it.

In the meantime, we assure all Albertans that your health and safety is our top priority. We are incredibly proud of the work our EMS practitioners do in your communities and we will continue to work with our emergency partners to ensure you get the best possible care every time you call for help.

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