Alberta’s EMS Staffing Shortage Affecting Swan Hills
The Grizzly Gazette received reports last month that the paramedics and ambulance based at the Swan Hills Healthcare Centre had been reassigned to carry out their shift in Slave Lake at least twice during the month of February, leaving the community of Swan Hills without local ambulance service during these incidents. We are given to understand these are not isolated occurrences and that these situations have been happening more frequently in recent months.
The reassignment of Emergency Medical Services (EMS) staff and resources away from home communities like Swan Hills raises concerns about what might happen in the event of a medical emergency in that community. Whitecourt is the nearest municipality with EMS resources that could respond to a medical emergency in Swan Hills. With just under an hour of travel time under ideal circumstances, there is the question of whether the extra travel time may lead to a delay in receiving crucial medical attention, which could have serious consequences for a patient’s health.
The shortage of EMS staff is a problem that is not unique to Swan Hills. It is a widespread issue across Alberta that has come into even starker focus over recent years.
The Grizzly Gazette reached out to Alberta Health Services (AHS) for more information about this situation as it pertains to Swan Hills. Unfortunately, we were unable to speak to an AHS representative in person and received this statement from the AHS communications department instead:
“Alberta Health Services is committed to ensuring all residents of Alberta receive the care they need when they need it. Staffing levels continue to challenge EMS in some rural communities across Alberta.
The recent short-term temporary relocation of Swan Hills EMS to Slave Lake was a result of staffing level challenges. The Swan Hills EMS ambulance returned to its home community as soon as those staffing challenges were resolved.
EMS monitors ambulance availability in real time and ensures resources are available to respond to emergencies. System adjustments are made minute by minute to make the best use of the existing resources. System adjustments may result in resources in some communities being relocated to another community where the need is most pressing based on current and historical data.
AHS is working on strategies to improve recruitment and retention in hard to recruit to areas. Strategies include:
• Working with the Alberta Government to make changes to legislation, which would allow better utilization of Emergency Medical Responders and Paramedics in Alberta.
• Working with EMS learning institutes to increase student intake/class sizes.
• AHS has implemented new recruitment strategies including, launching a paramedic recruitment campaign in Australia.
EMS staff are working extremely hard to provide timely care to Alberta patients and we thank them for their tireless service.
Reducing EMS wait-times is one our four priority areas, and significant work has gone into improving access to EMS services despite a more than 30 per cent increase in demand since last summer.”
While the provincial government has stated that they have taken steps to address the issue, it’s clear that more needs to be done to ensure that EMS services are not interrupted and that Albertans receive the care they need in a timely manner. It is important to remember that this is also a challenging time for EMS workers across the province, and we need to recognize their dedication and hard work in providing essential services despite the current staffing shortages.
Dean LaBerge, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Grizzly Gazette