Calgary Herald

Alberta Liberals push government to fix EMS, emergency room wait time ‘crisis’

- RYAN RUMBOLT Twitter: @RCRumbolt

The provincial Liberals are calling on the NDP to fix issues leading to increased wait times in Alberta’s emergency rooms.

Alberta Liberal Leader David Khan said data collected by the party through freedom of informatio­n requests show “systemic issues” and “mismanagem­ent” of the health-care system are causing a shortage of available staff, ambulances and hospital beds.

Numbers from the Liberals show there were 35 ambulance “Code Reds” (where no ambulance is available for 911 calls) in Alberta every month of 2016, with Edmonton and Calgary suffering the most frequent ambulance shortages.

That’s more than one Code Red in the province every day, every month in 2016.

“It’s just unacceptab­le in our province, in our society, to have ambulances not available for 911 calls,” Khan said in Calgary on Tuesday.

“We all expect in that type of emergency when we’re calling 911 there’s going to be an ambulance there.”

In the event of a Code Red, ambulances from outside the city are often called in to assist local crews and take on emergency calls.

The Liberals’ data showed paramedics spent more than 650,000 hours that same year waiting to transfer care of patients to hospital staff.

EMS staff also clocked more than 135,000 hours of overtime for an estimated $10 million in additional wages at the taxpayers’ expense.

In Alberta, EMS workers waited an average of one hour for patient handover to ER staff. Khan said that means pulling a two-person crew and their ambulance out of service until the patient is transferre­d over.

Those same handover times in the U.K. are an average of 15 minutes, according to the Liberals.

Calgary MLA David Swann said Alberta emergency rooms are in “crisis.”

Khan challenged the province to improve ER handover efficiency by hiring additional “intermedia­te” triage workers and adopting new technologi­es to streamline the process.

“In the short term we need more community care after regular hours, as well as paramedics and intermedia­te ER health-care

providers ... Long term, we need to expand the continuing and community care to free up bed spaces,” Khan said.

The Liberals also identified issues with EMS and ER patients experienci­ng long hallway wait times because beds are being used by patients who would benefit more from community care.

Swann said these patients, called “bed blockers” by some in the health-care field, are an additional drain on the health-care system.

He said improving and expanding the AHS community paramedic program by hiring more paramedics and allowing EMS crews to decline patient transport in select cases could cut down on “bed blockers” and wait times in Alberta hospitals.

“They’re profession­als,” Swann said of community paramedics. “They don’t need to be going through all these hoops to manage people in the community ... Have (patients) see their doctor the next day, or in the next two days. That’s progress.”

It’s just unacceptab­le in our province, in our society, tohave ambulances not available for 911 calls.

The Liberals conducted an anonymous survey of Alberta paramedics this summer.

Swann said the results will be released on Thursday and show EMS workers are facing personal and profession­al issues due to staffing challenges.

Calls to Alberta Health Services and the Ministry of Health were not immediatel­y returned.

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