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AHS Executive Vice-President Dr. Chris Eagle answers reporters' questions after meeting Friday with doctors on the ER crisis. ((CBC))

A day-long meeting Friday between doctors and Alberta Health Services has resulted in a new plan to ease overcrowding in the province's emergency rooms.

According to a new set of protocols, pressure on the ERs will be relieved when a number of "triggers" occur, such as when there are only seven ambulances available within a city the size of Edmonton, when hospital capacity reaches 100 per cent or when there are no additional beds to treat patients arriving with critical injuries or illnesses.

"If they're not being seen within the right period of time, then there's an escalation based on that," said Dr. Chris Eagle, the executive vice-president of quality and service improvement for Alberta Health Services.

"There are multiple triggers based across the whole system in trying to get patients into the right place."

These protocols came out of a day-long meeting Friday between about 100 physicians and health officials in Edmonton. They are expected to be in place by the end of December.

Eagle said the measures differ from what was in place before to deal with over-capacity issues.

"You didn't have one that was province-wide. You didn't have one that was well-linked to EMS. You didn't have one that was linked to community care spaces and you didn't have one that was linked to bringing on a lot of additional capacity," he said.

"You didn't have one that escalated to the CEO level in order to get a response ... this is very different. It's a much more aggressive approach."

AHS president brushes off questions

One of the Edmonton physicians who has spoken out about the ER crunch said he was encouraged by what he heard during Friday's meeting.

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Alberta Health Services CEO and president Stephen Duckett declined to answer questions from reporters about Friday's meeting. ((CBC))

But Dr. Felix Soibelman said putting these protocols in place will still be challenging.  Soibelman, the president-elect of the emergency medicine section for the Alberta Medical Association, used an analogy to describe the situation.  

"We're trying to get a size 13 foot into a size 8 shoe and it's going to be very uncomfortable for a while until we get maybe we get a size 12 shoe or size 13 shoe," he said.

"So that would be establishing the long-term care capacity that we're so desperately asking for."

The meeting took place at a hotel in downtown Edmonton. The president and CEO of Alberta Health Services, Stephen Duckett, brushed-off reporters' questions as he emerged from the meeting and crossed 107th St.

"We have issued a media advisory ... isn't it ridiculous that the media are not prepared to go to the media scrum and I'm eating my cookie," Duckett said as he rushed down the street.

Weeks of headlines

Eagle said Duckett seemed relaxed and confident during the meeting.

"He talked about the team needing to make this as a priority for them, as a priority for him, very much committed to getting all of the solutions out on the table," Eagle said.

Friday's meeting came after weeks of headlines about the situation in Calgary and Edmonton ERs that started when a letter from emergency room physician Dr. Paul Parks was leaked to the media to the media in October.

Parks, the emergency section president of the Alberta Medical Association, warned in the letter about a "potential catastrophic collapse" of emergency care unless health officials intervened.

The letter contained numerous examples submitted by doctors where patient care was compromised by extreme wait times.