The Town of Canmore will begin negotiations soon with Alberta Health Services to divest itself from providing emergency medical services to the community.
Council reaffirmed its intention to no longer operate ambulances in Canmore at its last meeting before the summer break.
Fire Chief Todd Sikorsky said discussions have yet to occur, but questions surround how the change will be handled, if current staff will be offered positions, where the ambulances will be located and what will happen with the Town’s assets.
“They are our assets, but… there have always been disputes if paid for by taxpayers once should they be paid for again?” said Sikorsky. “We will form a transition team with finance and human resources so the most efficient transition can occur.”
Deputy chief administrative officer Lisa de Soto said some communities have been successful at negotiating for reimbursement for assets.
“It is our intent to seek fair market value for our assets,” she said, adding the municipality’s ambulances and cardiac monitoring equipment were costly to purchase and still of value. “Once we understand the implications, we will bring it back to council for discussions.”
Mayor Ron Casey said the public will be concerned about the change and in particular what change in service there will be.
Before AHS took over it was Town policy to never dispatch both ambulances outside the community at the same time – something that now occurs regularly.
“The whole idea of the province taking over is there would be no change in service delivery and that simply has not worked out,” Casey said, adding AHS has shifted from providing a local resource to a regional one. “Our fire department has ended up backstopping ambulances over and over again.”
The mayor also pointed out there is no financial compensation to the fire department for using its resources as a medical first response when an ambulance is unavailable.
Sikorsky said Alberta’s fire chiefs have been lobbying for such compensation, but there has been little movement from AHS to address the issue.
Canmore has provided an integrated fire and EMS department since 2001, which Sikorsky called an efficient model.
However, when AHS took over governance and funding of ambulance services, he said, it became clear that an integrated approach would not satisfy the new contract beginning in 2012.
Sikorsky said contract language released this spring confirmed Canmore would not meet requirements.
“There is no advantage to the Town to enter into that contract,” he said. “Significant infrastructure would have to be purchased to meet the intent of the new contract.”
He said AHS could take over direct delivery of EMS, approach a surrounding contracted service provider to expand or go out to tender or request for proposal.
In the meantime, council approved a strategic plan for a stand alone fire/rescue department.