New ambulances, more paramedics announced for Edmonton, Calgary amid EMS strain

Alberta Health Services has added five new ambulances and 20 more paramedics in Calgary and Edmonton respectively. 

'The system has gotten to the point where it's desperate,' emergency doctor says

AHS says it continues to experience pressure on Emergency Health Services, but hopeful hiring more paramedics and putting more ambulances on the streets reduces the pressure. (Submitted by Alberta Health Services)

Alberta Health Service has added five new ambulances and 20 more paramedics in Calgary and Edmonton respectively. 

AHS said in a statement Tuesday the additions are meant to help relieve pressure on EMS and improve access to emergency patient care amid the rising volume of emergency calls.

In May, the Alberta Medical Association said major pressures were being felt in the province's emergency departments.

Dr. Paul Parks, president of the Alberta Medical Associations' emergency medicine section, said any help is positive, but the province needs to fully review the challenges emergency staff are facing.

"It's demoralizing and frustrating that the system has gotten to the point where it's desperate and broken. We definitely need more help and whether 10 ambulances will come close to cutting it, I doubt it, but it's definitely a step in the right direction," Parks told CBC,

Mike Parker, president of the Health Sciences Association of Alberta, shared very similar sentiments, and called the announcement, "a drop in the bucket."

"The current government is asserting it has hired enough paramedics to staff these new ambulances, but they have said that before and the reality on the street is they haven't," Parker said in a statement.

AHS told CBC emergency calls have increased since the pandemic, something Parks said has put a major strain on emergency rooms and EMS.

"The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, opioid concerns, and emergency calls related to people returning to normal activities are all contributing to the rise in calls. Staff illness and ongoing fatigue are also contributing to challenges in the EMS system," AHS spokesperson James Wood said in a statement.

In addition to the added staff and ambulances, AHS has also approved $12.2 million to implement a fatigue management project for EMS workers. 

The announcement is the latest in the province's initiative to improve EMS as part of the AHS 10-point plan outlined by the UCP at the beginning of the year.

In the spring of 2022, AHS EMS hired 40 new paramedics.  Parker says he has yet to see changes, and hopes continued efforts eventually relieve some of the burden. 

"They're trying to do some Band-Aid solutions. Until the government publicly says we've got to commit to making this a top priority to fix then unfortunately those big solutions won't happen," Parker said.


Katarina Szulc is a reporter for CBC News in Edmonton. She previously worked at CityNews 1130 in Vancouver. You can email story ideas to Katarina.Szulc@cbc.ca.