Shandro stands firm on Alberta EMS dispatch consolidation, refuting Nenshi's claim it will cause delays

Alberta's health minister has fired a shot at Calgary's mayor for claiming that a provincial takeover of EMS dispatch could slow ambulance response times.

Calgary mayor has called plan a terrible idea

Alberta Health Minister Tyler Shandro sent a letter to Calgary's mayor defending the provincial government's plan to consolidate EMS dispatch systems. (CBC)

Alberta's health minister has fired a shot at Calgary's mayor for claiming that a provincial takeover of EMS dispatch could slow ambulance response times.

Last month, Alberta Health Services announced a plan to consolidate ambulance dispatch services across the province, pulling Calgary, Lethbridge, Red Deer and Wood Buffalo into the three existing EMS dispatch centres. 

Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi has called the provincial takeover a terrible idea.

He says a provincial dispatch system could take more time to get first responders to a caller's location because they'll have to describe several times why they need help.

But in a letter obtained by CBC News, Health Minister Tyler Shandro says there will be no delays in emergency responses caused by the consolidation.

Read the correspondence between the province and the mayor below:

"EMS data shows that fears of service delays that stemmed from the first wave of consolidation were unfounded," he said.

"AHS reports that EMS calls are answered within 10 seconds, 95 per cent of the time and that no calls to 911 have ever been left waiting."

And in a letter from Alberta's chief paramedic, Darren Sandbeck, he accuses Nenshi of making "untrue and disrespectful" statements, including his comment in August that "people will die."

He says callers will not have to tell their story multiple times under the provincial system. 

"AHS is a dedicated and committed healthcare organization, to suggest that we would do anything to put patients at risk is absolutely untrue," Sandbeck said in the letter.

Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi argues that a provincial dispatch system will take more time to get an ambulance to a caller's location. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

Speaking to reporters Friday at an infrastructure funding announcement, Nenshi reiterated his opposition to the plan and slammed the province for saying he's being untruthful.

"I think people who know me know that you may disagree with me on political stuff, but ... I'm pretty damn straight. And I never lie. Ever," he said.

"The minister of health is making a terrible mistake here. And what he is not understanding, I believe, is the fact that it is an integrated system between firefighters and ambulances. So it is true that the dispatch for ambulances likely will increase the response time just by a little bit. The problem is that it will take much longer for the firefighters to get there."

Nenshi says city council may want to consider getting more information to Calgarians on how the dispatch change will impact them in a medical emergency.

"I'm not really one for stunts or photo ops or things like that, but I think in this case, I think it's very important that Calgarians really know what's coming down the pipe and really understand just how seriously we are taking this issue," he said.

Coun. Diane Colley-Urquhart says Calgarians have to speak up.

"We are talking about minister Shandro wanting to dismantle our integrated 911 call service in the middle of a pandemic when we need that service more than ever," she said.

Several attempts by the province to take over EMS dispatch in Calgary in the past decade have been halted by previous health ministers. 

The province said the transition will take six months and is expected to annually save more than $6 million.

With files from Scott Dippel


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