Earlier this week, the Alberta government announced that they were creating an advisory committee as a “response to growing demand for EMS services” in the province.
Which is a weird way to say that the EMS system in Alberta is vastly inadequate.
In a media release issued last October, the Health Sciences Association of Alberta claimed that EMS services in the province “are stretched beyond their limits”.
Over a 50-day period, the HSAA tracked at least 135 red alerts in Alberta. This means that there were at least 135 instances of no ambulances available to respond, should an emergency arise. This affected 18 communities.
For the week the media release was published, the HSAA reported that there were nearly 300 unfilled paramedic shifts during a 3-day period.
According to the government’s announcement this week, the new provincial emergency medical services advisory committee will “provide immediate and long-term recommendations that will inform a new provincial EMS service plan” by this May.
Now, the government isn’t wrong about there being a growing demand on EMS in the province. Here, take a look at the number of EMS events in Alberta over the last 4 years (2021–2022 data isn’t yet available).
See? The number of events the EMS have responded to over the last 4 years has increased every year.
But there’s something else you should know.
I scoured AHS’s annual reports for the years during the same period to find how much AHS has been spending on EMS—or more specifically, ambulance services.
And what we see is that while EMS events have increased significantly, spending hasn’t.
Between, the 2018–2019 fiscal year and the 2020–2021 fiscal year, the number of EMS events increased an average of 3.41%. Spending on ambulance services, however, has increased only 2.55%.
The gap grows even wider if we look at just the last two years, which were the only ones in this reporting period under the UCP. EMS events were up an average of 3.68%, and spending was up just 1.36%.
So, it’s not so much that demand is growing, as much as it is that demand is growing faster than the amount of money the province is spending to deal with that demand.
Or to put it another way.
The government media release said that “The provincial EMS budget is $15 million higher than it was in 2019.”
That’s kind of true. (I calculated $14.4 million.) But it leaves out some context.
Alberta spent about $542.44 million on EMS in 2021 and $528.05 million in 2019, an increase of 2.73%. During that same period, EMS events increased from 560,434 to 602,283, up by 7.47%.
So, they spent 2.73% more to deal with demand that increased by 7.47%.
One interesting thing to note is that the committee will be chaired by two UCP backbencher MLAs: Tracy Allard (Grande Prairie) and R.J. Sigurdson (Highwood).
What you may not know is that Sigurdson’s father—Rich Sigurdson—was the founder of two private ambulance companies during his lifetime.
The first was Aaron Ambulance, which he started in 1969 and handed it over to the City of Calgary two years later. The second was Aaron Paramedical, which he founded a few years later and ran it for over 30 years. It’s still operating today.