EDMONTON — Following a review by the Health Minister, AHS Emergency Medical Services (EMS) is moving forward with plans to consolidate 911 EMS dispatch services.
Beginning early next year, four municipally-run EMS dispatch sites — Calgary, Lethbridge, Red Deer and the Municipality of Wood Buffalo — will be consolidated into three AHS-run dispatch sites: the Northern Communications Centre in Peace River, the Southern Communications Centre in Calgary, and the Central Communications Centre in Edmonton.
Albertans will notice no change when they call 911 for emergency services. AHS answers incoming emergency EMS calls within 10 seconds, 95 per cent of the time. Ambulance response times will not change, ambulances will not be delayed, and medical first response through fire departments will continue exactly as it does today.
Why is this transition necessary?
- With this change, AHS will see every available resource in real time and always send the closest paramedics who are best equipped to help, regardless of geographic boundaries.
- AHS EMS will be able to more efficiently co-ordinate air ambulances, medical first responder partners, transfers between health facilities, and community paramedics, who are specially trained to provide a wide range of diagnostics and treatments in patient homes.
How will this transition change how 911 calls are answered in these municipalities?
- Albertans will notice no difference when they call 911.
- Behind the scenes, when a municipal call-taker answers a 911 caller requiring ambulance services, that call will be transferred to the appropriate AHS communications centre rather than to a municipal dispatcher.
- These transfers take seconds and already occur hundreds of times a day in other municipalities, including the City of Edmonton. Transferring calls electronically between dispatch centres is a trusted process used in Alberta for years.
Why is this happening now?
- The AHS Review recommendation completed earlier this year has validated earlier reports, including one by the Health Quality Council of Alberta (HQCA) that supported dispatch consolidation for improved patient care and health integration.
- Currently, the municipally-run EMS dispatch sites do not schedule transfers between health facilities or community paramedics — services that are increasingly important as AHS moves toward providing more community-based care.
- This transition will standardize dispatch services across all Alberta communities.
Will the AHS communications centres be able to handle the additional call volume from Calgary and other municipalities?
- AHS EMS will hire about 25 positions to handle the new call volume that would be generated by the City of Calgary calls. These positions will be funded with savings from this consolidation, estimated to be $6.2 million per year.
- Increase in call volume from other municipalities is negligible and will not require new hires.
What will happen to the staff currently doing the work in the four municipal centres?
- In the four municipalities, these staff also perform fire department call-taking and dispatch, law enforcement call-taking and dispatch, along with other municipal roles. It is anticipated these staff will still be needed to serve in other roles.
- Any municipal staff who want to work out of the AHS Southern Communications Centre in Calgary will be encouraged to apply to work at AHS.
Will this transition will have a negative impact on the dispatching of fire/rescue or medical first response (MFR)?
- Nothing will change with respect to the process for dispatching MFR or fire/rescue.
- The current model, implemented in 2011, is not changing and will continue to manage tens of thousands requests annually for medical first response.
Does this transition increase risk to EMS and fire responders?
- The relationship and the exchange of information with law enforcement agencies will not change. The model is the same throughout the province, including local law enforcement agencies and the RCMP.
Aren’t dispatchers in a local city dispatch centre more knowledgeable about local addresses and geography?
- AHS uses mapping information and data provided by the municipalities; both AHS and municipal dispatchers have precisely the same information at their fingertips.
- Ambulance services in each community will continue to be delivered by the same local paramedics who provide the service today. These local professionals know the streets, locations and neighbourhoods, and will continue working with EMS dispatch to respond to any emergency in every local community.
Isn’t it better to have dispatchers for fire, police and EMS all in the same room so they can ‘twist and shout’ to talk to each other in person?
- When other agencies need to be alerted about an emergency call, all information is automatically transferred to the appropriate agency via the AHS Computer Assisted Dispatch (CAD) System.
- Using the CAD system to transfer important information including addresses is fast, reliable and eliminates errors which could be communicated by passing on information verbally.
- Verbally passing on vital information in an emergency 911 call is not a best practice; sharing information when multiple calls are coming in all at once can create confusion and lead to errors or delays in the process.
Has AHS done any consultation with the communities affected by this transition?
- The consolidation of EMS dispatch has been discussed with our partners since AHS started to reduce the number of EMS dispatch centres in Alberta several years ago.
- The current state of dispatch has been examined a number of times, including during the HQCA review in 2013 and the AHS Performance Review in 2019.
- AHS will continue to reach out to the municipalities that are affected to ensure they have the information they need and understand the rationale for this decision.
Where can I get more information?
Alberta Health Services is the provincial health authority responsible for planning and delivering health supports and services for more than four million adults and children living in Alberta. Its mission is to provide a patient-focused, quality health system that is accessible and sustainable for all Albertans.