The mayors of four Alberta communities continue to push back against the provincial government's plan to consolidate EMS dispatch into a province-wide system set to begin Jan. 12.
On the eve of the start of the transition, the leaders from Calgary, Lethbridge, the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo and Red Deer held a joint virtual news conference Monday on the issue.
"Premier, there is still time to do the right thing," said Red Deer Mayor Tara Veer. "We want to let it be known that Albertans will rue the day that change happened in our province."
The transition of Calgary's system is slated for Jan. 26. Mayor Naheed Nenshi says he's extremely concerned that there will be a potential disconnect when the current setup, where EMS, fire and police dispatch are housed in the same room, ends. Nenshi says the fact AHS will not transfer calls to police could prove problematic and cites the emergency response to the traffic stop where Sgt. Andrew Harnett was fatally injured as an example for the need for coordination.
"I spoke with the 911 operator who managed the call on the horrible events on Dec. 31," said Nenshi. "She did an amazing job but she had to coordinate three different agencies all focused on a life-saving goal and we will lose that."
Alberta has been running a dispatch system for the rest of the province since 2009 and in August Alberta Health Services announced plans to centralize these final four municipal-run sites.
The group of mayors have strongly advocated against the changes, worried it will lead to lengthier response times that could potentially cost lives. They argue local dispatchers can send help and accurate information quicker than someone picking up the phone in a different part of the province.
Chris Spearman, Lethbridge’s mayor, says his city’s council is also willing to pay more than a million dollars to retain EMS dispatch in the city.
The provincial Ernst & Young Report identified a possible $5.7Million in savings by closing satellite dispatch centres and centralizing EMS dispatch.
The City of Lethbridge has offered to pay our share of that cost, $1.2 Million in order to retain #EMSdispatch #yql pic.twitter.com/XHSYgpme8a
The health minister has stressed patient care will not be impacted by the change. Tyler Shandro says technology today is far more efficient than it was a decade ago.
Streaming EMS dispatch is expected to save the Alberta government a total of $9 million which, according to Shandro, will go back into the medical system.