Ambulance response times slower under Provincial regime
Wednesday, Mar 23, 2011 06:00 am
Since Alberta Health Services (AHS) took over ambulance service in July 2010, average response times have increased by about 34 per cent, despite a 12 per cent decrease in call volume.
AHS representatives presented an update on the service to City council, March 22.
“AHS has a slight increase in response times than what was provided prior to us taking over services,” said Darren Sandbeck, executive director of Calgary and Central Zone EMS.
“This is not where we want to be. This is not what we are happy with. We will be moving forward aggressively to rectify this.”
Prior to AHS take over, ambulances were located in two Airdrie Fire Halls. At transition, EMS vacated the fire station buildings and moved into one station located in the southeast part of the city.
From July to December of 2009 when the City of Airdrie controlled ambulance service, there were 926 calls compared to 815 calls from July to December of 2010, when the service was taken over by AHS.
Despite this decrease in call volume, typical response times have increased by three to four minutes.
Emergency life-threatening calls are categorized as Delta and Echo. Echo calls are immediately identified as life-threatening whereas Delta calls are identified as life-threatening a little further into the call. In Airdrie, Delta calls saw an increase of two minutes, 10 seconds from July to December 2009 as compared to July to December 2010, 90 per cent of the time. Echo calls saw an increase of one minute, 19 seconds from the same time periods, 90 per cent of the time.
Alderman Glenda Alexander said she is appalled by the numbers.
“‘A’ is the lowest priority and ‘E’ is the highest and ‘E’ has increase in time by two minutes and 58 seconds, that is pretty scary,” she said.
“This is a matter of life and death of the citizens of Airdrie. This really, really bothers me and it’s not acceptable.”
Alderman Allan Hunter agreed, saying he wouldn’t be alive if it weren’t for the quick response times of the Airdrie integrated service when he had a heart attack three years ago.
“As far as the geographical location impeding response times goes, in 2008, we had our own ambulance service and without it, I wouldn’t be here,” he said.
“This isn’t serving the people of the community. It’s not the fault of you guys who are saving lives but this is a bureaucratic mess.”
Sandbeck attributes the marked increase in response times to the fact that there is only one station in Airdrie.
“Two EMS stations are needed,” he said. “We are working as aggressively as we can to get a second station because that is the only way we can get our response times where we need them to be.”
Options include a new site or co-location with other emergency services. Sandbeck said AHS is currently reviewing sites and is working with a developer for a second station on the west side of the tracks. The Province would also like to work with the City to determine how and where to open a second station, he said.
“Obviously we have some major challenges,” said Mayor Peter Brown.
“We look forward to expediting this thing and getting a second station as soon as possible.”
City to provide EMT training for firemen
Due to the increase in emergency response times, City council voted unanimously to implement a co-response program for the Airdrie Fire Department to enhance services.
“This program provides critical interventions that can significantly improve patient outcomes given Airdrie’s time and distance to hospital,” said Linda Masson of the Airdrie Fire Department.
The new program will ensure all fire crews are trained to the Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) standard. This standard provides CPR with automated external defibrillator, oxygen therapy, airway management, spinal immobilization, diagnostics and the administration of medications.
“Medical co-response is a value-added program that allows the current resource to be utilized to provide first-on-scene medical services to the citizens of Airdrie,” said Masson.
“The American Heart Association, through extensive research, has definitively established that medical co-response by fire departments provides a critical link in the chain of survival that gives patients the best outcomes.”
All cities and the majority of municipalities in the province of Alberta provide medical co-response through a variety of program models. The EMT basic life support program will cost $28,430 in 2011, $47,100 in 2012 and $29,100 in 2013 for Alberta College of Paramedics registration, training, equipment and medications.
“I believe this is a minimal, minimal cost for our citizens to have the best medical service in our city,” said Alexander. “It’s so important.”
“If I had the money, I would write you a cheque,” he said. “This crew saved my life and any money is worth that.”