Tuesday afternoon saw Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) RJ Sigurdson, also the Parliamentary Secretary for Emergency Medical Services (EMS) Reform, present to Airdronians how EMS reform is moving in the right direction so far.
Sigurdson was invited by MLA Angela Pitt to help share some new statistics on how the province sees EMS moving forward.
"We are focused on reducing response times in the province and to do that we needed significant changes in how we approach EMS. We heard clearly that the workload and work environment were not sustainable We've acted and we've done everything we can to act as fast as possible. I'm excited to share with you some of the progress that we're now seeing as of today," explained Sigurdson.
According to the data shared by Sigurdson, from 2020-2021 to 2021-2022 there was an 11.7 per cent increase in total event volume in one year with volumes in some weeks, occasionally 30 per cent above pre-pandemic levels. A note in an EMS dispatch review highlighted that Alberta EMS dispatch was handling 39 per cent more calls since 2017.
In January 2022 the Alberta EMS Provincial Advisory Committee (AEPAC) was created to help spearhead these problems. Two town halls were held while surveys were sent out to all paramedics so AEPAC would be able to come up with recommendations to make the EMS situation better altogether.
"AEPAC made 10 initial recommendations in May of 2022. When the report was submitted to the minister at the end of September, we added an additional 45 recommendations key to the success of the report was the feedback from frontline staff." Sigurdson carried on and said, "In addition to AEPAC, the Department of Health commissioned a review of the EMS dispatch system that resulted in 45 additional recommendations on how to improve the EMS system as far as dispatch is concerned in the province. All recommendations were accepted by the minister in January of 2023."
Out of all the recommendations that were made, over 50 per cent of them are in play as of right now.
Sigurdson said they have heard loud and clear a lot of concerns that front-line workers have spoken out about, here are a few:
- Prolonged shifts/overtime
- Not getting breaks
- Not enough resources
- Not having options to provide care to patients that need different care other than a hospital
- The importance of metrics and showing the process and improving the system
Since the Alberta Health Care Action Plan was created, AHS EMS has focused on increasing capacity by adding more units or freeing up ambulances and paramedics in any part of the system that they can and Managing demand differently.
Another piece Sigurdson talked about was the AHS EMS return to service initiative that would transfer patients from ambulance to hospital care and return to the community within 45 minutes, which according to Sigurdson is the Canadian Standard.
"AHS is reporting significant improvements to workflow, community coverage and response times already."
The provincial government will be investing $196 million in funding for EMS over the next three years. When it comes to hiring new staff, steps are being taken as well.
"AHS hired an additional 445 staff last year, temporary positions are being rolled into permanent positions. AHS is hiring an additional 90 full-time employees as a part of the additional units being brought online this year in Edmonton and in Calgary."
Sigurdson also mentioned AHS is focused on bringing in other workforce supports to care and support for existing staff. These include mental health supports training, uniform refresh, and ensuring paramedics are getting breaks and off shift on time.
Another indication of improvements in the system is the reduced number of ems responses from suburban communities (like Airdrie) to Calgary. According to Sigurdson, this is because in Calgary's case, since the EMS Return to Service Plan, there have been zero minutes in red alert in at least two of the last three weeks.
"Now that we're seeing the EMS Return to Service and having all those resources available in Calgary, of course, we're seeing the impact of what that is compound over into our suburban areas surrounding our metro centers."
Being that the Town Hall was in Airdrie, Sigurdson was able to provide some specific info on Airdrie.
According to Sigurdson, he understands that this is only the start of the work that needs to get done and will continue working in the right direction no matter what.
Airdrie Primary Care Paramedic, Ryan Middleton, presented some of his findings through a Town Hall last week organized by Airdrie residents was at this information session and mentioned this presentation showed the good and the bad.
"This is the first time that I've come and watched a PowerPoint presentation that had data that left me in a better mood than before I watched it."
With that being said and even though things are moving in the right direction, Middleton mentioned plenty of things have to be done.
"There are too many calamities and tragedies very near in the rearview mirror for me to totally say we did it, we got it on the radar. The right people are carrying the football down the field. Because just this past November, just a matter of months ago, we reached the absolute peak of red alerts of offload delays, resources being shut down due to staffing and the number of staff off with disabling injuries, all at the very same time."
What Middleton would like to see next is for the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act FOIP to be available to the public so all Airdronians are able to see EMS statistics without paying $25 and waiting so long for the information to come it.
"It's peculiar that I can go to the City of Toronto website and look up their council meeting minutes with their municipal EMS service where this data is provided upon being asked for free. You can hop on to the BC Emergency Health website and see what their response times are from coast to coast in their province. But here, the literal Chief of the Fire Department and the Mayor of the City have to pay $25 and make a FOIP request to say how long did it take ambulances to get to all the Charlie Level (a potentially life-threatening emergency medical call) event in my city over this time period.
Middleton feels if FOIPs were public, they would be able to move on and agree on what the next steps should be sooner rather than later.
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