Lethbridge to lose its emergency dispatch to help AHS save $6 million

Yesterday, Alberta Health Services announced through a media release on their website that the Lethbridge Public Safety Communications Centre will be consolidated into one of AHS’s 3 centralized dispatch locations.

Yesterday, Alberta Health Services announced through a media release on their website that the Lethbridge Public Safety Communications Centre will be consolidated into one of AHS’s 3 centralized dispatch locations.

When the AHS EMS provincial dispatch system started in 2009, four communities retained their own municipally-run dispatch centres: Calgary, Lethbridge, Red Deer, and the Municipality of Wood Buffalo. Over the next 6 months, all 4 of these sites will be merged into one of the AHS dispatches in either Calgary, Edmonton, or Peace River.

Until now, Lethbridge’s Public Safety Communications Centre answered emergency and non-emergency calls for service, as well as dispatching, for Lethbridge Police Service, Lethbridge Fire and Emergency Services, Alberta Health Services, and several regional fire and EMS providers.

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The announcement comes in response to the Alberta Health Services Performance Review, conducted by Ernst and Young last year, which recommended, in part, the following:

AHS has identified an opportunity to consolidate four contracted EMS dispatch centres into EMS managed communications centers to reduce costs.

The workload currently handled through service agreements with the City of Calgary, City of Lethbridge, City of Red Deer and the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo Dispatch Services is duplicative of what AHS’ EMS communications centers currently provide and can be consolidated and managed by AHS.

From an efficiency perspective, AHS would spend less time administering agreements and working with four external agencies on dispatch operations and performance management.

Alberta Health Services Performance Review, p. 121

Alberta Health officials all positioned this move as positive.

The provincial EMS dispatch system allows for better coordination of all EMS resources, including ground ambulances, and air resources, and reliable response times. EMS dispatch consolidation supports improved health integration and will facilitate broader health reforms.

Tyler Shandro, Minister of Health

The consolidation is the right decision for any Albertan needing emergency medical care. This will improve care and ensure we are being fiscally responsible.

Dr. Verna Yiu, AHS President and CEO

This is about Albertans and providing the best care to 911 callers and patients. 911 callers will notice no change when they call for emergency help. By bringing all EMS services together, we are better able to maintain consistency and ensure sustainability of EMS dispatch services across all communities.

Darren Sandbeck, Chief Paramedic and Senior Provincial Director, AHS EMS

Local labour representatives disagreed, as seen in this Twitter thread by Local 237 of the International Association of Fire Fighters, citing concerns of wrong addresses, delays in crews asking for fire/police assistance, and crews having as much safety information as possible before arriving to the scene of a call:

In speaking to the media earlier this year, Lethbridge mayor Chris Spearman raised concerns about Ernst and Young’s recommendation:

I think everyone in Lethbridge should be concerned that this proposal will reduce the level of service in Lethbridge, result in longer responses to medical emergencies, and put people at risk.

The consolidation will, naturally, increase call volume at the 3 AHS dispatch locations. To handle the additional load, AHS plans to hire 25 new employees. None of the staff are expected to be transferred to these roles, given that they’re municipal employees, not AHS employees. AHS says they’re welcome to apply for the positions.

In the end, it will save Ministry of Health $6 million each year, which amounts to 0.029% of their $20.6 billion budget.

UPDATE (5 August 2020): The Alberta Fire Fighters Association sent me the following release:

UPDATE (8 August 2020): The mayors of Calgary, Lethbridge, Red Deer, and MD of Wood Buffalo issued a letter in response to this announcement.

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By Kim Siever

Kim Siever is an independent queer journalist based in Lethbridge, Alberta. He writes daily news articles, focusing on politics and labour.

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