Centralization of ambulance dispatch put on hold

The ongoing centralization of ambulance dispatch services has been put on hold, Alberta Health Minister Gene Zwozdesky told a meeting of rural politicians in Edmonton Tuesday.
Health Minister Gene Zwozdesky made the announcement Tuesday at a speech to the Alberta Association of Municipal Districts and Counties in Edmonton. ((CBC))
The province's plan to centralize ambulance dispatch services is on hold, Alberta Health Minister Gene Zwozdesky told a meeting of the Alberta Association of Municipal Districts and Counties in Edmonton Tuesday.

"Last week I immediately contacted Alberta Health Services and I said we'll put a stop to everything for the time being," Zwozdesky said in a speech at the Shaw Conference Centre.

The Alberta government took over ambulance services from municipalities in the province on April , 2009.  As part of the takeover, the province planned to consolidate dispatch centres from 35 to three within two years.  The centres were to be located in Calgary, Edmonton and Grimshaw.

The 17 dispatches already centralized will be reviewed, Zwozdesky said. The province is also holding off on splitting ambulance services from municipal fire departments pending further review.

Zwozdesky later told reporters that he has heard concerns from rural areas about quick access to emergency services.

"I don't know if there will be any changes. All I'm saying is that we have to stop and take a look at where we're at right now, assess the situation very thoroughly, and come up with a practical solution," he said.

Zwozdesky said the review will take a few months.

Communities need to respected, MLA says

News of the review was welcomed by Rob Anderson, Wildrose Alliance MLA for Airdrie-Chestermere.

"Communities that have an integrated ambulance/fire service, they need to be respected. They want those services. Those services bring a very valuable addition to their community," he said.

"And it's not for some centralized bureaucracy in Edmonton to tell them what they can and can't do. That shouldn't be the role of Alberta Health Services."

The changeover to three centralized dispatches has occurred gradually. According to Alberta Health Services, Parkland County, west of Edmonton, had its ambulance calls taken over by dispatches in both Peace River and Strathcona County. The calls will eventually be handled by the Edmonton dispatch centre. 

The switchover occurred last summer. After several months, complaints started coming in about how long vehicles were taking to arrive, said Parkland councillor Pat Brennan.

"The direction hasn't been good from the dispatch, or they've sent them to the wrong area, so that affects patient care," Brennan said.

Since becoming health minster in January, Zwozdesky has put a number of controversial government decisions on hold, including the proposed closure of 300 hospital beds in Edmonton and Calgary and the closure of 146 psychiatric beds at Alberta Hospital in Edmonton.