Building a Stronger Future: Strengthening EMS Services in Alberta

With the recent hire of a new member, the Swan Hills EMS (Emergency Medical Services) team is back to being fully staffed. While this is excellent news for the Swan Hills community and region, many communities across the province have not been as fortunate. The need for more EMS workers in Alberta has been a recurring topic in many news outlets over the last few years, complete with statistics on the average response times across the province. It hasn’t been a pretty picture.

The Grizzly Gazette recently spoke with Dan Huckabee, Director of EMS Operations for the North Zone, Cale Holstrom, Manager of Operations for North Zone EMS, and Darby Bannister, Supervisor of Clinical Operations, about how Alberta Health Services (AHS) is addressing this situation.

While Huckabee acknowledges there is a staffing shortage, he prefers to focus on how AHS is working to recruit more EMS professionals, saying, “We all know that there is a staffing shortage, but with that, there are numerous opportunities to enter into the profession.”

Huckabee’s approach to the current situation makes logical sense. While it is important to acknowledge and try to deal with the current shortage of EMS professionals in the best way possible, the only way to truly improve the situation is to hire more EMS professionals.

AHS is currently recruiting all three designations of EMS professionals (Advanced Care Paramedics, Primary Care Paramedics, and Emergency Medical Responders) for numerous communities across the province, especially in the North Zone. Positions are available in ground operations, which serve the majority of communities in Alberta, and air ambulance operations, which involve providing care supported by a dedicated fleet of fixed-wing aircraft.

The numerous positions currently available include a range of work schedules, including full-time, part-time, and casual opportunities. It is entirely possible to find a job within or close to one’s home community, especially in the North Zone.

Huckabee and Holstrom explain that the job market for EMS professionals was very different when they started out. People wanting to get into the profession would often have to try to secure a casual position and wait for a permanent position to become available in a very competitive environment. Relocating to secure a position was also a strong possibility.

People just starting out on their path to entering the profession also have numerous opportunities to get into a wide variety of educational institutions and providers that offer the educational programs necessary to earn any of the three EMS designations. Some educational providers provide a variety of delivery methods, including distance learning.

“It’s a great profession. It’s a rewarding profession,” said Holstrom, “We would encourage anyone who has an interest to visit”

While the road ahead may still present challenges, there is hope for the continued improvement of EMS services in Alberta. With a concerted effort to recruit and support EMS professionals, communities can look forward to enhanced emergency medical care and greater resilience in the face of future challenges.

Dean LaBerge, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Grizzly Gazette