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Province seeks injunction to force Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo to transfer 911 calls

Alberta Health Services and Alberta Health have applied for an injunction asking the court to force the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo to transfer 911 calls to the provincial dispatch system. 

'We're absolutely committed to this change,' Premier Jason Kenney says

Alberta Health Services is seeking an injunction to force the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo to transfer 911 calls to the provincial dispatch system. (CBC)

Alberta Health Services and Alberta Health have applied for an injunction asking the court to force the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo to transfer 911 calls to the provincial dispatch system. 

"This is not a step we take lightly, however it is necessary to ensure ambulances continue to be dispatched appropriately, and that patient care is not put at risk," AHS said in a news release.

The municipality hasn't provided proof that the change to a provincial system has led to delays or inappropriate responses, AHS said.

Premier Jason Kenney said the decision to make the change was made based on advice from "multiple expert panels" over several years.

"We're absolutely committed to this change," the premier said on Thursday. "We think it's the best thing in terms of service as well as efficiency." 

Wood Buffalo Mayor Don Scott said he spoke with Health Minister Tyler Shandro on Thursday about the issue. 

"I felt like the meeting was more of a PR stunt than an actual effort to have meaningful dialogue," said Scott. 

Scott said Shandro wanted to meet to see if the issues could be resolved. 

"You know what? There's been an offer to sit for seven months and we sat alone at the table," said Scott.

AHS switched Wood Buffalo to the provincial dispatch system three weeks ago, a move the municipality fought for months.

At a meeting this week, councillors voted to stop transferring 911 calls to the provincial system. 

The municipality said there have been delays in emergency services that have risked people's lives since AHS took over. 

Scott said it's unfortunate the province is not treating Wood Buffalo as a partner. 

During the meeting, Scott said Shandro told him the province would be seek a court injunction against the municipality.

Scott said he can't ask staff to defy a court injunction should one be granted.

"We're obviously fighting the injunction," Scott said. "We have strong grounds."

The municipality stopped transferring 911 calls to the province at noon on Thursday.

Fire Chief Jody Butz said the municipality has already seen marked improvement in response time. 

Within one hour of stopping the call transfers, Butz said, someone in a rural community "whose addressing is difficult at best" called for assistance.

Butz said local dispatchers were able to confirm the location within 20 seconds, and it took 90 seconds to dispatch an ambulance. That's comparable to seven minutes to validate the address under the AHS dispatch system. 

"That's a significant difference," said Butz, who noted the ambulances, infrastructure and employees are paid for by the municipality.

But AHS said in its news release the municipality has not provided any information to back up its claims that it had to intervene in specific EMS calls due to the integration of the new dispatch system.

"AHS has looked into every event that has been raised to date, and there have been no issues or intervention required by the municipality," the news release said.

Steve Buick, spokesperson for Health Minister Tyler Shandro, said in a statement both Municpal Affairs Minister Ric McIver and Shandro have contacted Scott to tell him "we're willing to work through his concerns." 

Buick added that would include reviewing any changes in how calls are dispatched, but said the municipality "can't start with putting patients at risk by breaking the law and breaking a contract on a few hours notice." 

EMS dispatch is part of the provincial health system, Buick said He added that Alberta Health is willing to consider suggestions on how EMS dispatch can better serve the region. 

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