'Symptom of a greater problem': Paramedics raise budget concerns after Calgary code red

'Symptom of a greater problem': Paramedics raise budget concerns after Calgary code red

A shortage of ambulances on an icy morning in Calgary points to a bigger problem in the province, says the head of the union representing Alberta paramedics.

Calgary EMS was swamped Thursday morning with a high number of calls for slips and falls on city sidewalks.

"The code red situation that occurred in Calgary is a symptom of a greater problem of a lack of improved resources and funding that maintains the call volume growth that's going on in the cities of Edmonton [and] Calgary, and quite frankly the entire province," said Michael Parker, president of the Health Sciences Association of Alberta.

Between 7 a.m. and noon, EMS received nearly 200 calls — double the normal volume. Of those calls for help, 105 were related to falls.

With more calls than ambulances to respond — known as a "code red" — Alberta Health Services called on outlying communities for help.

"I think we're getting to a place where EMS is going to need to advocate to make sure that our resources are keeping up with the demand and the environment that we work in," said Nicolas Thain, an executive director with EMS for Alberta Health Services.

One example is finding ways to get ambulances back on the street faster after taking patients to the hospital, he said.

Less money for ambulance services

Alberta budgeted $477 million for ambulance services last year but spent closer to $488 million. On Thursday, the province announced $471 million for ambulance services as part of the provincial budget.

But Parker says Alberta communities have seen increasing incidences of code reds since the province took over EMS services back in 2009.

"We've had massive growth in province. And from that point to today we've had minimal, if any, resource enhancements to EMS members in this province. So when you have a population explosion, and no additional resources added, this is a direct result."

Parker says drawing on other communities for ambulance service shouldn't be necessary on a winter morning.

"If there was a critical incident — a collision, a plane crash, these kinds of things —  we can accept that as being a critical one-off that sometimes runs our systems to the max. What we saw yesterday was a snowfall. We're in Alberta, snow happens all the time," said Parker.

- MORE ALBERTA NEWS | 'It's so sketchy out there': Historic avalanche cycle creates extreme risk in the Rockies

- MORE ALBERTA NEWS | Java and job seeking: Enterprising Alberta grads hand out resumes on coffee cups