Province takes over ambulance services, changes still to come

The Alberta government officially takes over ambulance services from the municipalities on Wednesday, but it said there will be no visible changes right away.

The Alberta government officially takes over ambulance services from the municipalities on Wednesday, but it said there will be no visible changes right away.

"In terms of the care, the priority, the phone call, the reliance of EMS being there it is all business as usual," Alberta Health Services spokesperson Sheila Rogeau said.

"Nothing will change and our overarching priority throughout this entire transition has been to make it as seamless as possible."

Changes to service will be phased in over the next 18 to 24 months and include consolidating dispatch services from 30 centres to three.

The consolidation will mean there will be a better use and co-ordination of resources across the province, said Jim Garland, director of dispatch services for Alberta Health Services.

Ambulances that come into the city to drop off a patient from communities around the region can be utilized, he said.

"As they're moving around between regions and in and out of the city we can utilize those resources to respond if they're the closest ambulance to a call."

In the Edmonton region, there are EMS dispatch centres in Strathcona County, St. Albert, Parkland County and Redwater, Garland said. Once the transition is complete, those areas will be handled by a central EMS dispatch in Edmonton.

There have been criticisms that out-of-town ambulances and dispatchers will have trouble with unfamiliar addresses and landmarks, but Garland dismissed those suggestions.

Ambulances will be equipped with GPS, if they don't have them already, he said, and dispatchers pass on the same information no matter where they are located.

"The dispatcher in Camrose gives that information to the crew that's responding,"  Garland said. "If that same information is given to a dispatcher in Edmonton they're still going to give that information to the crew that's responding."

The transition will also mean rural paramedics will provide services in their communities and be dispatched to nearby urban areas if necessary.

A team in the community

"I can see paramedics partnering up with other health-care providers like respiratory therapists, nurse practitioners so they are really a team going out into the community," said Joe Acker, who is in charge of EMS for the Edmonton region with Alberta Health Services.

Paramedics and the public should learn more about the changes in the next three months, Acker said.

Things will change for paramedics but more information still needs to come from the province, said Chris Murphy, a paramedic with Parkland County, west of Edmonton, and president of his CUPE union local.

"They're getting very, very anxious and very, very nervous to find out what's going to happen," he said. "They still realize that they will have jobs. They still will be employed but how the day-to-day operations are going to be ... we don't know yet."

Murphy is still disappointed about the province's recent decision to have all paramedics in the province be represented by the Health Sciences Association of Alberta without allowing staff the chance to vote on the issue.