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Expanded CT hours in Canmore having 'significant impact' on freeing up ambulances

“When our local EMS is in the city dropping off a patient at one of the hospitals, the provincial dispatch system identifies them as an available resource and dispatches them to an emergency call in the city."
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An Alberta Health Services ambulance. RMO file photo

BANFF – Banff’s ambulance crews are no longer being called to Calgary as often following the expansion of operating hours of the CT scan at neighbouring Canmore Hospital.

Mike Sibbald, EMS manager at Mineral Springs Hospital, said the increase in CT scan hours in Canmore had “made a significant impact” from the perspective of Banff EMS not needing to transfer patients to Calgary in order to get diagnostic testing.

“It also affects the Canmore EMS providers in that they are also tasked frequently with transporting patients for CT scan in the city, which takes a Canmore ambulance out of service,” he said during a Banff town council meeting on Monday (June 13).

“That has a knock-on effect when the Canmore ambulances are out of service… Banff crews may be asked to respond to Canmore, therefore leaving Banff with a shortage of resources, so that’s had a positive impact.”

In the spring of 2017, Mineral Springs Hospital EMS transitioned to the newly formed Alberta provincial EMS dispatch system.

This system was intended to centralize dispatch and create a borderless EMS system that deployed the closest EMS ambulances regardless of geographical or service area.

Over the past few years, however, there has been continued strain on the health care system.

Silvio Adamo, the Town of Banff’s director of protective services, said that has meant local EMS ambulances being deployed to other areas of the region, particularly Calgary.

“When our local EMS is in the city dropping off a patient at one of the hospitals, the provincial dispatch system identifies them as an available resource and dispatches them to an emergency call in the city,” he said.

“This process can continue for many cycles and has the negative effect of our local ambulances spending a large portion of their entire shift in the city.”

Municipalities, EMS and health care professionals have been raising concerns over patient care and service delivery in Alberta, which heightened over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic.

This prompted the Alberta government to establish a provincial EMS advisory committee in January to focus on the issues facing EMS causing service gaps, staffing issues, and hours of work.

The committee is expected to deliver its final report with long-term recommendations to the provincial health minister this summer.

In addition, Alberta Health Services rolled out a 10-point plan to add capacity to EMS and ensure the most critical patients receive immediate care.

Adamo said the expanded days and hours of operation of the CT scan services at Canmore Hospital – now operating at least 16 hours a day, seven days a week – is helping.

He said Banff’s fire department also helps out the local Banff EMS as best it can.

“I believe that is an invaluable service we can provide to our local partners at Covenant Health, so that they don’t have to take out of service another ambulance that may be available,” he said.

“We are still responding to the more serious medical calls, and providing basic life support, and we are also providing fire drivers whenever they are requested.”

Adamo said the Town of Banff remains hopeful that the committee and sub-committee reports will lead to further improvements in the health care system and keep ambulances in Banff.

“Unfortunately, as hard as it is, I think we at this point have to be patient and wait for the results, see the recommendations and see how they implement those recommendations,” he said.

Banff Mayor Corrie DiManno said it was heartening to hear some positive news.

“Thanks for illustrating the inter-connectedness between us and Canmore. That’s helpful to understand the bigger picture of the situation,” she said.