Nenshi demands apology from Alberta's chief paramedic for calling him a 'liar'

·3 min read

Alberta's chief paramedic and other top health officials appeared before city council Monday to talk about the province's decision to take over 911 EMS dispatch from Calgary and three other municipalities, but the presentation didn't receive a warm welcome from all.

The chief paramedic, Darren Sandbeck, says the move will save money, not delay response times, and allow EMS to better integrate with the health-care system.

AHS estimates it will save $6 million per year with the move.

However, Mayor Naheed Nenshi says little proof was provided that any of that is true. He said he was disappointed at how little data was presented.

"These questions have been asked many, many, many times, and the fact that they didn't have the data or seem surprised by the questions — they're making a mega-million dollar decision and they didn't have the data right in their hands? That shocks me," he said following the presentation.

"This is, as one member of council says, rather than evidence-based decision making, it appears to be decision-based evidence making."

Nenshi specifically took issue with data showing what he thought was cherry picked response times data and figures that downplayed the percentage of times a fire crew is first to arrive for a medical emergency.

The mayor has said the delay in getting fire crews to those emergencies is one of the critical flaws he sees in a provincial dispatch system for EMS.

Apology demanded

Inside council chambers, Coun. Druh Farrell and Nenshi called Sandbeck to task for a letter sent out by Health Minister Tyler Shandro's office, written by Sandbeck.

In it, Sandbeck calls out the mayor for saying "people are going to die," and that AHS isn't sufficiently concerned about response times because "few people die in the first few minutes anyway."

"In fact, the Health Quality Council analysis that you rely on made the same point the mayor is asserting when it says the eight-minute EMS response time standard might not have a bearing on mortality in a general patient population, even among the highest priority calls," said Farrell.

Sandbeck said it was the minister's office that sent the letter, not him, and then said response times are most relevant to critical patients, and EMS should focus on getting to them as quickly as possible.

He said he'd want more conversation before considering an apology.

"Mr. Sandback, we've been very nice and respectful today," said Nenshi in response.

"You sent a letter to every member of my city council and every MLA calling me a liar for saying what you just said. So we're giving you the opportunity right now to apologize publicly and retract your statement. So this doesn't have to go any further."

Dr. Ted Braun, AHS vice-president and medical director of operations, who was also presenting, said council chambers was not the appropriate venue to deal with what the mayor called "the professional conduct of one of [Braun's] employees."

EMS dispatch is handled by the province in all regions outside Calgary, Wood Buffalo, Red Deer and Lethbridge.

The province said in September the transition would take six months.