Calgary

AHS tackles ER 'offload delays' for paramedics

Alberta Health Services says it's trying a number of possible solutions to free up ambulance workers stuck in hospitals.
A union representing EMS workers has complained of paramedics being tied up at hospital emergency rooms. Alberta Health Services is weighing its options to reduce the increasing "offload delays."

Patients aren't the only ones whiling away their hours at hospital emergency rooms.

Alberta Health Services says it's trying a number of possible solutions to free-up ambulance workers stuck in hospitals.

Paramedics often have to wait with patients until hospital staff can take care of them.

The situation was brought to light earlier this week by the union representing ambulance workers. The Health Sciences Association of Alberta called for an overhaul of Emergency Medical Services.

On average, Calgary paramedics are spending one hour, 11 minutes at hospitals waiting on patient care after dropping off their charges.

These "offload delays" have been gradually getting worse for about the last five years, said Darren Sandbeck, AHS executive director of emergency medical services for the Calgary region.

Past pilot projects failed to decrease wait times

Sandbeck said they are considering a number of options to get paramedics back out on the road more quickly.

They are currently consolidating patients, so that one crew can look after three or four people. Emergency departments are also creating medical assessment units, which helps move patients through faster, Sandbeck said.

"Adding hospital beds … will hopefully help us see some relief coming in the future. The continuing care capacity is being expanded, so that will help us as well," he said. "There is no single solution here, it's a number of things that all need to work together."

Different initiatives have been tried over the last 10 years or so, but none have proven helpful in decreasing offload delays, according to Sandbeck. One such pilot project was where EMS staff members were stationed at hospitals to take over from their ambulance-riding colleagues.

There have been a few red alerts, situations where no available units are available for calls, said Sandbeck.

But he said they never lasted long and supervisors and specialty units were ready to respond.

Wait times at hospital emergency departments have become so long that patients are calling 911 for help, the Health Sciences Association of Alberta charged on Wednesday.  

One Edmonton doctor, who works in emergency rooms, told CBC News that it wasn't unusual to see eight or more ambulances waiting at the hospital.

now