A Lacombe city councillor is calling a ‘code red’ on ambulance service in central Alberta.
Chris Ross says ambulance response times in Lacombe are on the rise with a shortage of ambulances in Red Deer largely to blame.
He says Red Deer not only needs a cardiac catheterization lab at its hospital to help reduce the amount of ambulance transfers currently being done, but at least two more ambulances as well to address the concerns.
“The three outlying services of Guardian in Innisfail, Associated in Sylvan and Lacombe EMS are backing up Red Deer not only for Red Deer emergency calls but also for the significant number of cath-lab transfers that require to be taken to Edmonton or Calgary,” he explains. “This requires other units to be ‘flexed’ from Ponoka, Rimbey and even Bashaw to cover Lacombe when other emergency calls or transfers are required in Red Deer.”
He points out Lacombe ambulance service responded to 3,345 calls from August 2017 to July 2018, with 26 per cent of those calls to Red Deer.
“Also, 53 per cent of the 3,345 total calls were done outside the City of Lacombe,” states Ross. “Which then, 675 times other units from other services being Ponoka, Bashaw, Rimbey, Red Deer and so forth, have to be flexed back into Lacombe to serve our needs and a lot of times while those units are being flexed in Lacombe, it's a higher priority emergency call, so therefore, the citizens of Lacombe are experiencing higher response times because both units of Lacombe are either in Red Deer or doing transfers.”
He says when there’s 880 calls a year for Lacombe EMS to go to Red Deer alone, that amount of call volume warrants two more ambulances in Red Deer which currently has five.
“First and foremost if Red Deer had a cath-lab, it would take away all the transfers,” states Ross. “There’s six to eight patients a day that require being transferred to Edmonton and Calgary cath-labs. Where Red Deer has the advantage is that the City of Red Deer has always had fire-medic service, so even if an ambulance is not available, they still can meet a four to five minute response time and still have a higher level of care.”
He says another issue for Lacombe is that is doesn’t have the room for a third ambulance in their community.
“We have two ambulances and one mechanical back-up at the hospital but the infrastructure of the building doesn’t allow for a third fulltime unit,” laments Ross. “If AHS could give us a daytime peak-hour unit, that would help. However, the biggest solution would be if there were more ambulances in Red Deer not only for their emergency calls but for the transfers for Red Deer Regional.”
Lyle McKellar, Associate Executive Director for EMS Clinical Services, AHS-Central Zone, says there are five fulltime ambulances in Red Deer, two plus a peak-time ambulance in Ponoka, two plus a peak-time ambulance in Innisfail and two fulltime ambulances each in Lacombe and Sylvan Lake.
He says they believe Lacombe still has access to high quality EMS care when and where they need it.
“That is done through a ‘systems’ approach versus an isolated community or ‘pocket’ approach,” says McKellar. “When you go back to 2009 before EMS became part of Health, communities all had their own service and they all covered their own communities with many also having a back-up ambulance. We already know based on our dispatch and deployment model and our patient quality services model that if a community gets depleted of resources, we will either reallocate units there or even take a unit that’s empty and passing by on the highway to go into that community.”
“It’s a very comprehensive service,” states McKellar. “I can sit here on my computer right now and I could show you where every ambulance is in Alberta and what they’re doing. I can certainly tell you if they’re tasked, I can certainly see where they’re at and back before 2009 before I was in the provincial system, I would have loved to have had that resource.”
Mckellar admits however they are always reviewing their resource levels to identify future investment opportunities.
“We certainly look at that and we identify where there may be areas of need, so that is important to us,” states McKellar. “It’s not something that’s lost on us.”
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