Alberta’s Health Minister Stephen Mandel is calling on the Alberta Government to change the way rural ambulance services are ran. Currently, if an ambulance takes a patient from a Lakeland location to Edmonton, the ambulance can then get dispatched out to Edmonton calls. Health Minister Mandel proposed that immediately after the ambulance transfers the patient, the bus shall return back to its originally station.
Cliff Martin with The St. Paul Ambulance Service says as it is now “whichever ambulance is closest gets called out”. The dispatcher has no way of knowing that particular Ambulance came from out of town, it only knows that it’s available. If a Lakeland bus is called out on another job, after transferring a patient, they then face the possibility of timing out in Edmonton. Meaning they still need to come back to the Lakeland but are running on overtime the entire trip home and typically have paperwork and end-of-shift duties to complete when they return. This ends up costing the province more money and an issue for the rural towns who are without that ambulance for an extended period of time.
Martin says another issue with the dispatching is there are only four central dispatching stations in Alberta. The dispatcher doesn’t have the immediate knowledge of the area and ends up causing some mix-ups when sending out ambulances. Martin says, although not one of the proposes from Mandel, “having more communication with the stations and the dispatchers” would solve a lot of the problems.
Martin notes that Minister Mandel has further proposed that ambulances no longer transfer non-emergency patients and the province needs to develop a new way to transfer these patients. As it is, doctors can prescribe a ride for a patient that needs to get to Edmonton to see a specialist. For example, someone who has no other means to get to a referral appointment, will be transferred via ambulance to Edmonton, as per the doctor’s order. Martins agrees that “the province needs to find a better way to get non-emergency patients transferred”.
There are still a lot of issues with the centralized dispatching system the ambulance services run on. Another being, EMS workers do not need to live in the community they serve, and often times they live elsewhere and come to town to work their shift and then left the community when their shift is over. This causes places in The Lakeland to become stepping stones for these workers, and makes for a lot of turnover.
Although the proposed changes by Minister Mandel do not address this issue nor that problem with dispatcher not knowing immediate details of the rural locations, like The Lakeland, Martins says the proposes “will make an impact” on The Lakeland.