She credits volunteer paramedics from the Red Cross with saving her life more than once in South America. Those memories and that gratitude for first responders is what drives local resident, Ali Morrison in her advocacy for first responders in her community.

A social media post sparking an interest 

Morrison, a classical musician, who lives in Cochrane, didn't expect that a social media post by Airdrie paramedic, Ryan Middleton, would be the beginning of a very long road of her own education on the complexities and nuances of the healthcare system in Alberta, as well as engaging with her local MLA's and other government officials on how to improve not only the emergency medical services that are being delivered but also becoming a passionate and outspoken voice for paramedics.

"[Ryan's post] just touched me. Coming from Europe; Canada is the gold star for social welfare and medicine. I could not believe what I was reading," she said. "The simple reason for me is - it's karma; I was saved [and] I feel obligated to do something to help both our communities who really do not have a clue that it's getting bad again."

For the better part of almost two years, Morrison has worked with both Middleton and others in the field, including retired paramedic Don Sharpe, who has also been a rallying voice in Cochrane for systemic and drastic change to EMS.

Between herself, Middleton, and others, she has regularly submitted numerous Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act requests to Alberta Health Services, in the hopes to demonstrate that numbers that are publically available via AHS EMS are not always indicative of the entire scope of EMS wait times in rural areas. The data she has obtained, she makes readily available on social media and is always informing her local MLAs of what appears to be deep contradictions between the public-facing narrative from AHS EMS officials and what is being felt on the ground by first responders.

The topic of citizens FOIPing information at their own cost was a widely-discussed and debated topic during an Airdrie EMS town hall in late April. Some residents expressed frustration at the fact that such vital data should be made available to the public without having to go through the FOIP requests and having to pay a fee.

Residents also pushed for the city council to take a more active role in requesting FOIP documents. This request was in fact actioned upon earlier this month - with city officials confirming that they will be requesting data from AHS EMS via FOIP quarterly.

Advocacy work also means disappointment

Morrison readily admits that there have been both positive and quite disheartening moments during her advocacy work.

"You keep going because the alternative is not to be considered."

She reflects back on her time in South America and what she went through there. Morrison, using her musical training travelled there to help children who were impacted by the conflict between the Sandinista National Liberation Front and the government.

"The last time the medic got me out, he stabilized me enough to be transported to a safe zone and get help. He went back in and he never came out. He went back to save somebody."

There are many actionable items, but what comes first?

However, her focus hasn't only been solely on gathering and disseminating data to the public. She has also been intensely focused on addressing mental health crises within the first responder community. Morrison has set up a confidential email and phone line for paramedics who want to share their stories of struggle with mental health, which many believe is directly tied to the working conditions paramedics are facing across the province.

As she sees it now, Morrison believes there are numerous actionable items that officials should be pursuing, though she believes some of the most crucial is to lend more mental health and psychological support for paramedics. However, perhaps the more difficult part of her advocacy is the advocacy itself.

Because paramedicine, EMS, and ambulance responses is a niche topic, Morrison observed that it is difficult to engage others in the topic. While some may feel that issues within AHS EMS do not directly impact them, what is happening in rural communities in Alberta has far-reaching implications for both public safety and health - though that is not always known until there is a tragedy that is widely publicized. 

Morrison has been determined to try and educate the public on having a secondary plan (Plan B - as she calls it) in case of an emergency. She said questions the residents should ask themselves is how long they are willing to wait if they need the assistance of an ambulance, lest it is delayed and what to do if the time waiting is simply too long.

"It seems like fear-mongering, but it's just common sense. How long are you prepared to wait? If your child has a broken bone? We can wait quite a while. What if that bone is coming through the skin? What if it's the femur? What if your child's not breathing?" she asked.

Morrison is hoping that those who are in elected office will spend more time pondering not only the problems but also coming up with solutions that will work for the long term. 

"My challenge is trying to find a way that we can get the word out to the big cities. We need cities to get on board and start getting loud. We need people who have had unfortunate experiences, we need them to start speaking about it. It's hard, it hurts, but we need to hear these stories."

Not knowing the answers doesn't mean giving up

Although Morrison said that modest improvements were observed in EMS in the past several months, it is not nearly enough to classify it as a win.

"I don't know the answers, but we keep trying. Because there's no alternative. We have to. We each have to do what we can and if that's five minutes, or three hours a day; whether it's to write a letter, because number numbers absolutely count."

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