During an Alberta Health Services presentation at Airdrie city council on Monday evening, Randy Bryksa, Associate Executive Director, of Emergency Medical Services (EMS) Operations, Calgary Zone, along with Chris Baker, the Acting Manager for District three, which encompasses Airdrie operations cited several statistics that showed that Airdrie ambulances are travelling with less frequency to Calgary. However, Airdrie's city councillors were left with more questions than satisfying answers.
According to the presentation that Bryksa presented to the council, he cited that between April 1 2021 till March 31, 2022, Airdrie EMS was responding to 57 per cent of its own call volume, with Calgary EMS coming into Airdrie for 9-1-1 calls 28 per cent of the time.
"Since we've made some changes to the response plan, which is specific to the changes that have occurred within the City of Calgary; from April 1 to 2022 to September 30 of this year, Airdrie is now doing about 10 per cent greater of their own call volume," Bryksa said.
This still means that approximately one in three emergency calls are still being responded to by EMS units outside of Airdrie. The biggest point of contention that seems to underpin that Airdrie ambulances are not within the community, was the response times that the presentation elaborated on. The EMS response times for Airdrie that were presented only encompassed Delta and Echo events, which are classified as the highest two severe emergency codifications for 9-1-1 calls. Both the 50th percentile response times and the 90th percentile response times for Airdrie are missing their intended response target time.
Councillor Chapman expressed his profound disappointment at the response times, saying that the word that came to his mind when looking at response times was disgust. He cited that in 2009, when Alberta Health Services took over ambulances in Airdrie and across the province, there was a guarantee that response times would improve. Chapman said response times haven't improved in the past decade or more.
"I do believe it was from 2017, [response time] went from seven minutes 33 seconds to nine minutes and five seconds; a minute and a half increase. When it comes to that minute and a half how important is that to save a life?" Councillor Chapman questioned.
Though Bryksa admitted that response times are something that EMS continues to struggle with, he didn't respond to Councillor Chapman's direct question. Councillor Chapman also posed a question to Airdrie's Deputy Fire Chief, James Kostuk, whether the prolonged response times are having an effect on the city's fire service. While Deputy Chief Kostuk said he did not have any analytical data with him, Airdrie's Fire Department gave Discover Airdrie access to data with regards to this.
According to data from the Airdrie Fire Department, one of the longest wait times that fire crews were waiting on the scene for EMS to arrive was on June 25, 2022, to a Delta emergency call. Fire crews waited approximately 55 minutes for EMS to arrive. In only measuring Delta and Echo responses, which exceeded EMS's 50th and 90th percentile targets, Airdrie fire crews responses to approximately 350 calls in which they were waiting longer than 8 or 12 minutes for EMS to arrive between 2021 and 2022.
Councillor Petrow also questioned the EMS representatives as to why only Delta and Echo events are being factored into response time and expressed a want to see all events, including Alpha, Bravo, and Charlie emergencies, the latter two of which require a lights-and-sirens response, being factored into response times.
According to the previous reporting by Discover Airdrie, data via a Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act request shows that ambulance response times in the city of Airdrie, since the inception of the 10-point plan, have followed an erratic pattern of increasing one month and decreasing the next month. The response times that Discover Airdrie obtained follow the maximum averages for the months stated. None of those response times match the targets that are set out in the 50th percentile or the 90th percentile targets.
In comparing a Charlie emergency in January 2022, the maximum response time was over 45 minutes, while in February that time increased to nearly an hour. While the response time did decrease the subsequent month, by May 2022 it was nearly 45 minutes again. The average response times for Charlie events did not change significantly.
The maximum response time for a Delta emergency, one of the gravest emergencies, the response was 22 minutes in January 2022, that time nearly doubled in February with a 50-minute response time. In May 2022, the response time clocked in at 41 minutes. Maximum response times for Echo events increased in April 2022 from January (no data was given for February), with a maximum response time of 17 and-a-half minutes. The single longest response time between January and May 2022 occurred in February 2022 for a Bravo event. The maximum response time was an hour.
While Bryksa also presented data that was meant to demonstrate the Metro Response Plan which is part of a wider EMS 10-point plan that is being implemented by the province, is in fact successful in keeping emergency resources in the community. The data showed Airdrie ambulances responding to Calgary from January 31 2021 dating back 12 weeks. He cited the fact that the number has decreased from 131 times per week, based on a 52-week average to 83 times per week.
However, the metrics that were shown in the presentation are based on a 52-week average, with only 12 weeks of data being shown. The data also does not illustrate the fact that one trip into Calgary by an EMS crew from Airdrie could take an entire shift of 12 hours or more. Even if one were to look at the most current data from October 2022, with an average of 83 Airdrie EMS responses to Calgary, that would roughly equate to Airdrie ambulances responding to Calgary 11.3 times a day. Councillor Jones pointed out that while statistics showing Airdrie ambulances responding less to Calgary are positive, he reiterated that there are no details for just how long Airdrie ambulances are in Calgary.
According to previously published FOIP data by Discover Airdrie, between January 2021 and January 2022, Airdrie paramedics spent a total of 1,186.26 hours in offload delay, with another 670.33 hours in the transfer of care hours, which accumulated for 1,856.59 hours between 2021 and 2022.
Councillor Jones also pointed out that the statistics provided do not illustrate how often Airdrie EMS trucks are out of service due to a lack of staffing. Bryksa said that between April 1 to October 31 of this year, trucks are not operating around 12 per cent of the time in Airdrie due to no staff.
"[That is] 2,163 man-hours," Bryksa replied.
Airdrie Mayor Peter Brown concluded that the health and safety of citizens continue to be one of the most crucial priorities that the city council is tackling and expressed hope that during the next EMS presentation to the city council, data would be more robust with a broader understanding of how Airdrie's EMS is being utilized within the city. He asked both Bryksa and Baker what else could city council do in order to better advocate for the provincial government.
"I would say to continue lobbying. I do need your support. I need that continuing lobbying. Specifically, we need to get out of the acute care centers in a more timely manner so we can return those resources, the EMS resources back to the street so we can provide the care to our citizens across Alberta," Bryksa concluded.
Send your news tips, story ideas, pictures, and videos to firstname.lastname@example.org