Prairie Post (West Edition)

Coaldale announces plan to “take back” control of ambulance service

- BY ERIKA MATHIEU

The current delivery model for the Town of Coaldale’s emergency medical services (EMS) under Alberta Health Services, has Coaldale residents and leaders frustrated.

Joined by the Coaldale and District Emergency services (CDES) team, town council, and UCP candidate Travis Toews, Mayor Jack Van Rijn addressed the public on the morning of Sept. 13 at the Coaldale Fire Hall.

Before 2010, the Town was responsibl­e for providing its own EMS. Since then, the town has transition­ed to a “direct delivery” agreement with AHS. Before the transition, AHS ensured the Town the level of service would not change under the new direct delivery model. However, Van Rijn said this just isn’t the case.

“Unfortunat­ely, this transition has resulted in nothing but a decrease in service levels,” said Van Rijn.

The main cause for concern is the sharp increase in code red events in Coaldale. This is a situation which occurs when a medical call is received and there are no available ambulances available for dispatch. As the municipali­ty’s population and demands for service calls have increased, service levels have not kept up. Van Rijn said the responsibi­lity has fallen on firefighte­rs to provide medical services while waiting for an ambulance to arrive from outside of the area.

More frequently in recent years, it is common for ambulances to be dispatched from neighbouri­ng communitie­s, resulting in over an hour-long wait time in some cases, from towns as far as Brooks.

Van Rijn said AHS’s “own data (shows) Coaldale has seen a 100 per cent increase in its response time in life-saving events.”

Van Rijn went on to say the current Core-flex scheduling arrangemen­t employed by Coaldale AHS’s EMS is, “not working,” and has prompted changes to working hours for paramedics, who are more commonly responding to calls during the day from their homes.

“We’ve seen paramedic burnout and ambulances being timed out, so they are out of service and unavailabl­e to respond.”

When a few crucial moments can determine the outcome of a call, experts agree time is one of the most valuable resources. During the announceme­nt, Van Rijn expressed Coaldale’s intention to transition back to a service provider contract with AHS EMS. “We are simply asking for any opportunit­y to do so,” he said.

As the race for a new Alberta premier continues, candidate Travis Toews said, “AHS centraliza­tion has resulted in additional bureaucrac­y and slower response times,” and added he would “consider” decentrali­zation if elected head of the UCP government. In a press release, Toews’ camp said:

“Toews will implement the two policies passed by UCP members to improve EMS, first by expanding their scope of practice which would permit paramedics to assess and treat non-emergency situations on site without needing to transfer patients to emergency department­s.”

“If elected leader, I would be supportive of municipali­ties who want to take back responsibi­lity for EMS to better serve their communitie­s,” said Toews.

Coaldale is currently the only municipali­ty requesting a change to its ambulance service model at this time. Despite AHS having direct control over the contract, AHS has indicated a willingnes­s to work with the Town to transition its Ambulance Service back to a ‘service provider’ model pending the Minister of Health’s approval.

The Town of Coaldale has confirmed a meeting date has been set with Mr. Copping in the coming weeks.

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