Calgary

Ambulance dispatch deal ends years of dispute between Calgary and AHS

Calgary's ambulance dispatch will remain under city control under a new agreement with Alberta Health Services announced Tuesday, after years of political wrangling.

Controversial plan to take service away from local 911 operators has pitted city against province since 2013

Under the deal, Calgary will maintain dispatch responsibility for EMS calls made inside city limits, while AHS will handle calls from surrounding areas currently served by the city. (Adam Loria/AHS)

Calgary will maintain control of its ambulance dispatch under a new agreement with Alberta Health Services announced Tuesday after years of political wrangling.

The deal, set to take effect April 1, 2017, will see Calgary maintain dispatch responsibility for EMS calls made inside city limits, while AHS will handle calls from surrounding areas currently served by the city, including inter-facility transfers.

The city will use AHS technology, according to the terms of the deal, meaning its 911 operators will be able to dispatch EMS services while being connected with the AHS provincial dispatch system.

The contentious issue had been a point of disagreement between Mayor Naheed Nenshi and the previous Progressive Conservative government, which announced plans in 2013 to centralize ambulance dispatch services across the province.

It was even cited among the reasons for the 2015 resignation of former AHS CEO Vickie Kaminski, who said she quit in part because of political interference from the new NDP government over the Calgary dispatch issue.

Even though it wasn't yet in use, the province began paying rent in April 2015 on an in-house dispatch centre in Calgary  — at a cost of about $60,000 a month — so AHS could handle EMS calls separately from the city's 911 calls for police and fire.

"There was miscommunication between what was said to the city and what was said to Alberta Health Services and it was really just creating a lot of drama, which is why we put the pause button on this issue to take the time and work it out," said current associate Alberta Health Minister Brandy Payne. "This is a decision that affects a critical service that millions of Albertans rely on."

AHS CEO resignation

In her resignation letter, Kaminski detailed how AHS had developed a business plan to end its contract as of April 2015 with the City of Calgary to provide ambulance-dispatch service, but the previous PC government did not want the issue to become a "provincial election football," so the plan to notify Calgary of the change was delayed until after the May 2015 election.

But after the NDP won the election, Kaminski said in her letter the new government "stopped us from moving this plan forward" and the health minister began "dealing directly with Mayor Nenshi" on the file.

Nenshi disputed Kaminski's exact version of events but maintained his staunch opposition to taking ambulance dispatch away from Calgary's 911 operators, saying such a move would increase response times and not actually save money, as AHS has claimed.

"I have been told by the folks at AHS that they believe this is the right way to move forward at a lower cost, and frankly I have to look after the people of Calgary and I'm very, very happy that we'll continue providing that service to Calgarians by Calgarians," he said on Tuesday.

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