During a Thursday morning press conference attended by the Alberta Minister of Health, Jason Copping and various first responder officials, including Darren Sandbeck, chief paramedic and senior provincial director, Alberta Health Services discussed staffing, transfer and dispatch that are part of the province wanting to improve emergency medical services response times and increase coverage.

"I'm very aware that EMS workers around Alberta have been working tirelessly to respond to the surge in call volumes we've seen since last August. COVID-19 has driven up calls and added to delays in offloading in hospitals. Frankly, emergency is extremely busy a lot of the time, just like you are at the same time," said Minister Copping. "I know all of you in EMS are doing all you can. You're tired and you want and need help. We have heard you and we're working to support you to help ease EMS pressures and improve response times because that's the bottom line response times have gotten too long."

Minister Copping said that the issue of paramedics waiting prolonged times in emergency rooms is complex and that it is a system issue, one that can't be solved solely with the Emergency Medical Services. Tracy Allard, co-chair of the Provincial EMS Advisory Committee echoed the minister's sentiments and said that there is a need to create a task force to bring together key health partners involved in all levels of the health system. 

"The goal of this task force is to reduce not only EMS offload delays but to improve patient access to emergency departments and other health services. One practical step the task force will begin to work on once it's formed is developing provincial guidelines for timely acceptance of patients in emergency departments," she said. "This will include transferring some patients into the waiting room when clinically appropriate and safe to do so. Having these standardized guidelines for all EMS staff and emergency departments to follow will help streamline the transfer of patient care."

Minister Copping also announced that the province is granting a one-year exemption to allow emergency medical responders to staff more types of ambulances. 

"Emergency Medical Responders (EMR) is one of three classes of EMS practitioners registered with the Alberta College of paramedics. This staffing change will allow two emergency medical responders to transfer stable patients without the need for a higher level of paramedic. That's only in non-emergency transfers," Minister Copping said. "This move will free up other paramedics to respond to more urgent calls. Also when no other option is available, an EMR can now join an advanced care or primary care paramedic to respond to urgent calls. This will improve coverage and response times, especially in rural communities where staff fatigue and staffing challenges can be more acute."

According to the province, the change is in line with other provinces, including British Columbia, Saskatchewan and Manitoba, which allow EMRs to function in a variety of similar roles. 

The EMS committee will submit their initial report, which includes short-term and long-term recommendations, to the Health Minister in the coming weeks. A final, more detailed report is slated to be submitted at the end of July. 

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