Anonymous "Code Red" Twitter account sends updates on Alberta ambulance wait times
EMT/paramedic union president says long waits 'not uncommon'
A group of Alberta paramedics and EMTs has set up an anonymous Twitter account called @StatusCodeRed to share information about ambulance response times in the province.
The account, which started three weeks ago, gives live updates about ambulance availability in relation to 911 calls.
It picked up several followers after St. Albert City Coun. Cathy Heron made an ambulance ridealong on Jan. 30 and live-tweeted her experience of racing around the region responding to 911 calls.
The tweets warn of so-called "code red" situations.
Code red, according to Elisabeth Ballerman, means "the system is so clogged that there is not an ambulance available to respond to our needs."
- Click the audio button above to hear the full CBC Eyeopener interview with Elisabeth Ballerman.
Ballerman, who represents EMTs and paramedics in Alberta as the president of the Health Sciences Association of Alberta, told CBC News that in some parts of Alberta a Code Red means there is not a single ambulance available.
In the metropolitan centres it might mean there are only one or two.
Ballerman said she cannot verify the accuracy of the @StatusCodeRed updates, but said the information shared on the account matches what she's been hearing from her EMT and paramedic members around the province: Emergency workers are frustrated by the limits on their ability to respond to calls in a timely manner.
The union has told Alberta Health Services about their concerns in member surveys in 2011, 2012, and 2014, and union leadership has met with Health Minister Stephen Mandel about the issue.
"We have just concluded a collective agreement," Ballerman told CBC News, "so if anybody is of the view that [the Twitter account] is simply a bargaining tactic, it is not."
Ballerman said she's heard from her members that it's "not uncommon" for 911 callers to wait too long for help.
"In Grande Prairie, where somebody calls 911, the nearest ambulance is two hours away … our dispatchers aren't even able to tell the public that your ambulance is going to be a half an hour when you might be two minutes from the hospital and might get there faster by putting your family member in a car.
"They simply say, 'yes, we have dispatched an ambulance and that ambulance may be a long time coming.'"
EMT and paramedic workers in Alberta question the accuracy of the way AHS reports ambulance wait times, Ballerman said, adding they are worried the current problems will only get worse as the government warns of cuts to services in the coming provincial budget.
AHS gave the following statement in response to CBC's request for comment:
"All of our employees are protected by legislated whistleblower policy … While we will not engage in a debate with unidentified people through social media, EMS leaders have and will continue to speak directly with all staff members who want to talk about issues and solutions that will help us improve our ability to provide high quality care to patients.
"These "code red" situations are usually over within seconds or minutes and EMS will always respond to emergencies by repositioning units from other communities, deferring non-urgent transfers, deploying supervisors or using single paramedic response units to provide care until an ambulance is available for transport."