Almost four months after Alberta Health Services consolidated seven 911 dispatch centres into three, municipalities across southern Alberta continue to oppose the decision.
A local resident who calls 911 speaks with a dispatcher in Lethbridge, and if requiring an ambulance the call is forwarded to a centre in Calgary. Fire dispatching remains in Lethbridge and RCMP calls still go through Red Deer.
All calls in the province for ambulances go through dispatches in Peace River, Edmonton and Calgary, which the provincial government says will save $6 million through operational efficiencies.
Municipal leaders, however, say the move has only lengthened emergency responses, especially since ambulance and fire services are no longer in direct communication with each other.
After receiving a letter from Lethbridge’s mayor, Chris Spearman, MD of Pincher Creek council considered how it might best advocate for the emergency needs of its residents.
The topic, said Reeve Brian Hammond, was a hefty one that took up a significant portion of the last regional meeting of mayors and reeves he attended.
“We had a very long and in-depth discussion about real-life stories that people brought from various places in the south about how unhappy they are with the service,” he said. “There’s real concern with our residents that the system is not operating the way it should be.”
With AHS chief paramedic Darren Sandbeck present, the reeve said he hoped the discussion and concerns expressed by those in attendance would gain traction with provincial officials. Additionally, data from AHS suggested the new system was failing to improve (and sometimes meet) the performance standards AHS itself had set.
“Anecdotes are anecdotes, but they’re from real people,” Reeve Hammond continued. “The delivery system is a problem. It’s just as simple as that.”
Though sympathetic to the issue, the lack of specific information on how the system change has affected residents in the MD made council wary about sending a letter to the provincial government.
“We have to wait a little bit longer on this because all we hear about is what’s going wrong,” said Coun. Terry Yagos. “I don’t like the system; I like the old system better. But is it really that poor? Is it working that bad? I don’t know.”
Council resolved to discuss the matter at the next Pincher Creek Emergency Services Commission meeting to see what, if any, specific issues were being experienced locally. Like in all emergency situations, said Coun. Bev Everts, time was of the essence.
“There’s a sense of urgency,” she said. “We can’t be losing lives.”
Sean Oliver, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Shootin' the Breeze