Albertans can count on Emergency Medical Services (EMS) to respond whenever they need help. More than 4,000 EMS staff across the province are working together to provide the best patient care possible on nearly 400,000 calls every year.
Recent media reports have suggested patient care has been compromised as a result of longer response times and delays waiting to transfer patients in hospital.
This is absolutely not true. While Alberta Health Services continues to work on finding ways to provide additional support to front line staff, patients continue to receive high quality care.
Even with growth in population and a 34 per cent increase in call volumes since EMS became part of Alberta Health Services (AHS) in 2009, response times have remained steady across most of the province.
We have been able to keep on top of call volumes thanks to the dedication of our staff, increased and improved resources, and by using those resources more effectively.
When a 911 call is made, trained dispatchers quickly determine how sick or injured the patient is. In life-threatening cases, EMS responds as quickly as possible. In cities, that time averages around seven minutes.
It is inevitable that ambulance response times to isolated locations will be longer than in cities, but that is when AHS uses other resources to ensure a rapid response including STARS helicopters, air ambulance planes and local medical first responders.
Since 2009, AHS has added 38 new vehicles and has replaced more than 70 per cent of its entire fleet of 370 ambulances with upgraded vehicles. Construction has also been completed, or is in the planning stage, for 27 new or renovated EMS stations and operations facilities.
EMS leadership has also focused on finding better ways to use existing resources to ensure Albertans continue to receive the highest quality care possible.
New deployment procedures allow dispatchers to see every ambulance in real time, which ensures the closest resource is always sent when someone calls for help. A new borderless system means any EMS resources can respond to support patients, no matter where the ambulance is based.
EMS has also added nearly 20 non-ambulance transport vehicles since 2009 to help free up more front line ambulances for emergencies. Close to 40 per cent of EMS calls are for patient transfers. While many of those transfers are for very sick patients who require advanced care, others don’t always need a highly skilled paramedic for their trip.
Vehicles, like wheel chair-equipped vans, are now used to help move stable patients keeping more ambulances in their communities to respond to urgent calls. We’re exploring different opportunities to add additional non-ambulance vehicles to more communities in 2015.
AHS understands some front line staff have frustrations, particularly with having to wait in emergency departments while patients are being assessed and transferred to hospital staff. We share these concerns and are working to find new and innovative ways to help staff provide the best care to patients including:
o Dedicated Community Paramedic programs now providing on-scene care to chronic-disease patients so they don’t need to be taken to hospital.
o Testing rapid response units in Edmonton hospitals to see if having nurses take over patient care can help get EMS crews back on the street quicker.
o Transferring less serious patients to other EMS crews, to help reduce wait times in hospital.
o Ensuring consistent training and technology through a provincial EMS system so patients get the same quality of care no matter where they live.
o Holding more face-to-face meetings with staff in all zones to discuss issues and concerns.
EMS’ quarterly patient experience surveys consistently show that patients are happy with their care. The latest survey found that around 96 per cent of EMS patients are satisfied with care and 94 per cent felt their ambulance arrived in a reasonable amount of time.
We’re also working with communities to help address their concerns. For example, AHS entered into a pilot project with the MD of Willow Creek after the community raised concerns about the availability of ambulances to respond to calls.
The community decided to buy three vehicles and staff them with basic life support trained volunteer fire fighters and Alberta Health - the agency in charge of regulating emergency vehicles - agreed to temporarily allow the MD to transport patients in critical and life-threatening condition in the event they could transport the patient quicker than waiting for an ambulance.
Since the pilot began in May 2014, EMS resources responded to nearly 600 emergency calls in the region and the MD has transported one patient that met the project’s requirements.
We continue to work with communities to find additional ways to improve patient care. Our Chief Paramedic and EMS leaders are talking with communities across the province to help determine what more can be done. This process will help identify the unique EMS needs of all communities to understand where gaps remain in order to make a plan to fill those gaps.
No one ever hopes they’ll have to call an ambulance for help, but AHS is doing all it can to make sure that if that day comes, patients get the help they need, when and where they need it.