Calgary

Calgary city council calls on health minister to drop changes to 911 EMS dispatch service

Calgary city council voted Monday in favour of a motion to call on Alberta's health minister to stop the provincial takeover of local 911 EMS dispatch services.

Centralizing services could lead to delays for first responders, council heard

The province says the takeover of Calgary's EMS dispatch system will not change response times, but officials with the city say it will delay notifications to firefighters by several minutes. (David Bell/CBC)

Calgary city council is calling on the province to drop plans to takeover the 911 EMS dispatch service in the city.

Council approved a motion Monday to officially ask Health Minister Tyler Shandro to cease plans to consolidate emergency services.

This came after the people who run Calgary's integrated 911 call centre told council in a special meeting that delays are to be expected if EMS calls go elsewhere.

The province says the takeover of Calgary's EMS dispatch system will not change response times, but officials with the city say it will delay notifications to firefighters by several minutes.

Currently, a call to 911 in Calgary for police, EMS and/or the fire department is immediately connected to the appropriate agency.

Under the province's proposed changes, the 911 call receiver would transfer the caller to an AHS call centre, and then the call would go back to Calgary 911 to get fire or police moving.

The city says this move by the province adds extra steps to the current process, and that could put people's lives at risk in critical situations.

Mayor Naheed Nenshi calls the province's plan a terrible idea and says Calgarians need to learn more about what's at stake.

"Given that that conversation has not really been had, you know we've had a bunch of tweets spreading misinformation and attacking local politicians instead of an actual conversation about what the implications of this change might be. And so it's important for us to be able to engage in that with Calgarians," said the mayor at a press conference on Monday.

Nenshi says firefighters usually arrive before EMS and that he fails to see how the province's plan will improve the current arrangement.

"Show us the evidence in the 60 per cent of Alberta where it has been implemented that it actually has improved patient outcomes," said the mayor.

The reeve of Foothills County, Suzanne Oel, told city council the new system hasn't worked better.
    
"Because of the logistics of transferring the call back and forth, the total time to dispatch a medical and/or fire response averages about five minutes now, or three times longer than before," said Oel.

"If they could prove this will be better for patients or if they could prove that it would actually save money, I'll stand down," said Nenshi.

"But they've not been able to prove those things. So if they move forward with this without proving those basic questions, it says a lot about their lack of faith in evidence-based decision-making."

The provincial government has said people calling 911 will notice no difference and wants to have the new dispatch system in place by early 2021. 

With files from Scott Dippel

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