In response to statistics that were presented at a news conference late last week by the Alberta NDP, which showed that Airdrie ambulances travelled to Calgary 7,358 times in 2021-22, Alberta Health Services has issued a statement.
"AHS is working hard to ensure ambulances are available in all communities when they are needed. A new initiative launched in February has shown success in reducing the number of suburban responses into Calgary by approximately 50 per cent across the Calgary Zone," wrote James Wood, the Director of Issues Management and Media Relations at Alberta Health Services.
AHS has repeatedly stated EMS is continuing to manage a sustained increase in 911 calls, in some cases the increase is 30 percent above pre-pandemic levels.
"All call types have increased. In both Calgary and Edmonton, call volumes are at record levels, and staff illness and fatigue continue to have an impact."
Data on AHS's Quarterly Emergency Medical Services Dashboard, shows that in April, May, and June 2020 (Q2), there were approximately 77,000 emergency events in the province. Alberta recorded its first COVID-19 case in March 2020, which would have been Q1, which is not represented in the current data. However, the first quarter of 2022, which includes January, February, and March, does not show a significant uptick from 2020, with an approximate 82,000 emergency events province-wide.
Statistics from Alberta Health Services Emergency Medical Services that Discover Airdrie requested through the Freedom of Information and Privacy Act (2022-G-219), do indeed show that Airdrie ambulances halved the number of times they responded to Calgary between January and February 2022. However, when looking at the total call volume for the month of February, Airdrie EMS still averaged nearly 49 per cent of their total calls in Calgary.
Wood wrote that the elements of the Metro Response Plan began rollout on February 7, 2022.
"Since then there have been significant and noticeable improvements in keeping suburban ambulances in their home communities. The Metro Response Plan is one element of the EMS 10-Point Plan to help create capacity in the healthcare system."
And while Airdrie EMS didn't respond as frequently to Calgary in the first two months of 2022, there was a seven per cent increase of 9-1-1 calls in other areas between January and February. The decrease of Airdrie ambulances responding to Calgary slowed later in 2022. From February to March there was a 33 per cent decrease, while March to April saw an increase of Airdrie ambulances travelling to Calgary, approximately 34 per cent.
The data that was presented by the NDP showed that between April 1 2022 and July 15, 2022, Airdrie ambulance responded to emergency events in Calgary 830 times, whereas inter-facility transfers were responded to 105 times. Events classified as "other" was responded to 55 times.
Wood also enumerated on the EMS response times, writing that while response times have increased and they’re above AHS EMS targets.
"EMS continues to work hard to reach people who need them as fast as possible. In Airdrie in June, EMS responded to critical calls in about eight minutes, 47 seconds at median (50 per cent of calls), and 17 minutes, 30 seconds at 90th percentile, compared to our targets of eight minutes (median) and 12 minutes."
However, according to the AHS Quarterly Emergency Medical Services Dashboard, response time is calculated based on events thought to be life-threatening at the time of the 911 call and includes Delta and Echo events, which means that the median and 90th percentile response times for Airdrie EMS do not include Alpha, Bravo, or Charlie events.
According to AHS data which is publically available, the 90th percentile response time in June 2022 is only slightly lower than the 90th percentile time in January 2022, prior to the Metro Response Plan being implemented. When comparing the 90th percentile response time between February 2022 and June 2022, there is an increase.
Wood stated that EMS has heard feedback from local communities regarding ambulances in their areas, and has been adding new ambulances in Calgary and Edmonton to help alleviate the pressure on the system and reduce the need to rely on ambulances from other communities, with ten new ambulances, five each in Calgary and Edmonton, are already in service, with ten more coming into service in September.
However, even with the added resources currently in Calgary, a recent tweet from the Calgary Police Service on August 14 illustrates that the EMS shortage is impacting not only residents but other first responder agencies.
In response to the NDP calling for paramedics to get off shift on time as well as be offered permanent full-time jobs, Wood wrote that EMS has been in a constant hiring cycle and continues to have a robust pool of applicants.
"EMS hired 202 new employees from January 1, 2022 – June 30, 2022, including 167 paramedics. In 2020, AHS hired 236 paramedics and hired 340 paramedics in 2021. EMS positions can be full-time, part-time or casual which can help meet operational requirements, provisions of the collective agreements, and staff preferences. It is common for AHS to post a mix of both permanent and temporary positions in order to meet operational demands, which are also being affected by our COVID-19 response, and to meet provisions of the collective agreement."
Although there have been hundreds more employees hired and new ambulances within the Calgary zone, according to FOIP data (2022-G-236) obtained by an Airdrie resident, Airdrie ambulances were shut down 124 times in 2022 (data requested was until June 2022), while in 2021 there was 86 shutdowns. In 2020, there were 55 shutdowns. Since 2020, Airdrie has seen a 44 per cent increase in its ambulances being shut down. The data does not specify what the reasoning for a truck shutting down was.
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