Calgary

Shandro proceeds with EMS consolidation despite pushback from mayors

In a letter to the mayors, obtained by CBC News, Shandro wrote that he has considered the different sides of the issue but is moving ahead with the transition. 

Minister, mayors have sparred for weeks over the issue of paramedic dispatching

Health Minister Tyler Shandro says he's moving ahead with combining EMS dispatch for Calgary, Red Deer, Lethbridge and Wood Buffalo despite intense pushback from the mayors of those municipalities. (CBC)

Health Minister Tyler Shandro has decided to proceed with amalgamating the province's EMS dispatch services. 

Calgary, Red Deer, Lethbridge and Wood Buffalo, four municipalities that still handled their own paramedics, were informed by Alberta Health Services (AHS) in August that they would be assigned out of three AHS centres starting in the new year. 

The mayors of those municipalities have been opposing the move ever since, asking Shandro to overturn it. 

In a letter sent to the mayors by the minister, obtained by CBC News, Shandro wrote that he has considered the different sides of the issue but is moving ahead with the transition. 

"My decision is not to overturn AHS's decision," it reads, pushing back against the mayors.  

"This decision is not 'an unknown,' it's the best practice and the standard practice in Alberta, in most other provinces, and in other countries whose health systems are most like ours." 

Shandro said he rejects any suggestion that this is a risky choice and expects the mayors to support a seamless transition now that a final verdict has been issued. 

He had previously told CBC News that he hoped to make a quick decision to avoid any impact on the rollout date, which is expected to be finalized by late January or early February. 

The mayors responded briefly Friday afternoon. 

"We are strongly opposed to this Friday afternoon announcement by Minister Shandro," the statement says, adding there will be more to say next week. 

The Calgary Firefighters Association is also speaking out against the decision. 

The rest of the province was switched to AHS dispatch in 2009.

In the subsequent decade, health ministers have elected not to proceed with moving those four outlying municipalities into that model. 

Other jurisdictions have already done this, minister says

Shandro's letter emphasizes several times that most other provinces assign their paramedics in a similar way to AHS. The minister also reiterates the government's pledge that any money saved will continue to be spent on health care. 

The move is expected to save more than $6 million each year.

The minister's office says this change will not affect response times or co-ordination between other emergency services like police and fire.

The mayors dispute that assurance. 

In a joint letter released to the media last week, the mayors swore to "go to the wall" to oppose the change. They argued the change could increase wait times and cost lives.

The minister met with the group of four at the end of September and agreed to weigh their concerns before allowing AHS to move forward.

Friday's letter thanks the mayors for their collaboration and feedback, but also warns that consultations with AHS do not equal a veto. 

Minister Shandro talks about the AHS consolidation of EMS services, which would bring four municipalities in line with the rest of the province despite pushback from the mayors. 3:13

Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi has called the timeline of the implementation "ridiculous" and urged the minister to reconsider this plan. Nenshi and Shandro, in particular, have engaged in heated sparring on this issue. 

Alberta's NDP opposition called the decision "disappointing" and vowed to press the government on the matter in question period when the legislature resumes its session next week. 

"There's certainly a lot of risk involved," health critic David Shepherd said. "Particularly at a time when this government is already causing so much disruption across the health-care system."

The data on response times cited by each side has also been called into question. 

For example, AHS data shows that 95 per cent of 911 calls are answered in less than 10 seconds, while numbers from Foothills County say 95 per cent of calls in their area are not completed within 90 seconds. 

About the Author

Elise von Scheel is a reporter and producer with the CBC's Parliamentary Bureau, currently working in Calgary. You can get in touch with her at elise.von.scheel@cbc.ca.

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