With a lot of doubt, suspicion and angst out there in regard to Alberta Health Services’ takeover of ambulances in the province, Canmore council made a good call in retaining the capability of firefighters to provide an advanced life support capable system (ALS) for an extra year.
With an election race underway once again, provincial health services have come under fire once again. Wait lists haven’t been greatly reduced while lip service is paid to doing so. Long-term beds, by all accounts, haven’t been created, leaving seniors in dire straights in some circumstances.
And, with firefighter union officials and health-care professionals going public with statements that ambulance provision is in chaos, it’s important to keep citizens’ safety foremost in mind.
Which is why Canmore council made the right move by approving keeping a paramedic response unit within its standalone fire and rescue department which is capable of delivering more than basic medical assistance.
Many Alberta communities, it seems, now share stories of how often ambulances are not available within a municipality because they had been dispatched elsewhere.
When people pick up the phone to dial 911 and ask for an ambulance in an emergency, they do so with the expectation that call sparks immediate response. But that response, in the minds of most people, goes beyond a quick dispatch call being made.
A quick dispatch call is all well and good, but if an ambulance is rolling from some distance away, and a citizen awaiting care – is waiting – minutes seem like hours.
If, under Alberta Health Services direction, ambulances are responding from outside our communities because our own units have been dispatched elsewhere, it’s likely we all agree we’d rather firefighters show up, ALS-capable – not with Band-Aids, a blanket and a pat on the back.
Yes, it seems that the municipality paying for firefighter response in an ambulance situation is yet another downloading of provincial responsibility onto municipalities, but in the end, what matters is saving lives.
The trouble is, a town like Canmore has been forced by AHS to step away from a combined fire/medical system which has been effective for years (ignoring the ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’) logic. Prior to AHS taking over, rules were in place to ensure the Town was not without ambulances and staff in place.
But with AHS taking a more regional approach, and dispatching ambulances from who knows where, there is no question some faith in the system has eroded.
A couple of weeks ago, a woman fell and banged her head on the ice on 10th Street Pond, within about three blocks of the fire hall, but waited for an ambulance to arrive from Banff.
Then there is the horror story of an Eckville mom whose young daughter allegedly died while awaiting an ambulance which took almost half an hour to arrive. This was reported on in other media and we understand an AHS investigation is underway.
These two incidents don’t so much illustrate problems with an AHS-run ambulance service, and they aren’t indictments of a resulting lack of service, but they do illustrate why so many people are so concerned that there may be reduced ambulance service under AHS.