Changes to Emergency Ambulance Dispatch

AHS is risking patient care

On August 4, 2020, Alberta Health Services announced that it will discontinue its contract with The City of Red Deer to provide emergency ambulance dispatch to Red Deerians through our world-recognized 911 Emergency Communications Centre. Instead, emergency ambulance calls will be processed in consolidated dispatch centres outside of Red Deer, where staff don’t know our city. This transition took place in Red Deer on January 12, and since that time, our communities and emergency patients have experienced delays and disruption in dispatch times and first responders have been exposed to additional risk.

Changes-to-Emergency-Dispatch the process explained

Emergency Dispatch AHS Changes (pdf)

The Red Deer integrated model

​The City of Red Deer operates an integrated Fire and Emergency Ambulance Service. All firefighters and paramedics with Red Deer Emergency Services are FireMedics; meaning they are dually trained to do both jobs. Red Deer is a model for other communities across Canada in the way we deliver our combined Fire/Rescue/Advanced Life Support Ambulance Service, as emergency responders are trained to respond to medical crisis, regardless if the call was made for fire or ambulance.

Red Deer also dispatches fire and emergency ambulance resources through our accredited 911 Emergency Communications Centre. Red Deer is the only emergency communications centre in the world with four accreditations in fire and medical services, and one of only two in Canada with both fire and medical dispatch accreditation. The City of Red Deer is extremely proud that we provide the very best emergency ambulance dispatch to our residents in emergency situations, where oftentimes, mere seconds count.

AHS changes delay emergency response times to citizens

When it comes to emergency response, seconds count in life and death situations, and our previous local integrated EMS dispatch delivery model allowed for more locally coordinated and effective emergency response times. 

With AHS taking over dispatch, citizens will notice the following impacts:

Slower response times

Red Deer’s accredited 911 Emergency Communications Centre used to dispatch emergency ambulance services 18-21 seconds faster than the AHS emergency communications centre in Edmonton. Last quarter, the AHS communications centre in Edmonton averaged a dispatch time of 92 seconds, despite AHS having a standard of 90 seconds. In contrast, Red Deer averaged 71 seconds during the same period. Through consolidated AHS dispatch, response times will get worse.

Inefficient use of resources

When a 911 call previously came into Red Deer’s 911 Emergency Communication Centre, fire and ambulance communications operators were in the same room. This allowed for quick and integrated collaboration, and our units left the station earlier in critical situations where seconds count. This is not only an efficient use of public resources but it saves lives. Without integrated dispatch services, the fire vehicle may not be sent to the scene, or there will be a delay as a second call for a fire vehicle will need to be made, with 911 callers potentially having to re-tell their location and situation again during a life and death situation.

Lack of integrated emergency response

Before consolidation, in Red Deer, 40% of the time, the local fire vehicle arrived to a call before the AHS ambulance. Because our firefighters are cross-trained as paramedics, they can provide lifesaving care to the patient before an ambulance arrives. Under AHS dispatch, fire is not dispatched immediately, resulting in delayed patient care that could mean the difference between life and death.

Non-locals taking calls

Our local knowledge and familiarity with landmarks and hard-to-find places is crucial for the safety of Red Deerians, surrounding rural communities and central Alberta region during emergency calls, when seconds count. Dispatchers outside of central Alberta don’t know our local areas.

Delayed rural response

Removing regional integrated dispatch services delays the dispatch of emergency services to regional citizens. Our region is vast, and civic addressing is not always standard or possible in our rural communities.

Strain on Fire resources

If AHS dispatch sends our ambulance resource to another community, they also remove fire support from Red Deer. Through AHS dispatch, an ambulance could be sent from a nearby community but this individual would not be dually trained to do fire suppression like a Red Deer FireMedic would be.

No cost savings

The Province believes by eliminating emergency ambulance dispatch in Red Deer, Calgary, Lethbridge and Wood Buffalo, they will save $5 million a year. However, if Red Deer alone were to bill AHS for the times that a fire unit was dispatched for their services; it would cost $2.15M in 2019. For several years, our fire units have been providing FireMedic services to AHS at no cost to AHS.

Challenges with maintaining ambulance complement

Through Red Deer’s integrated dispatch centre, we were able to actively monitor the number of available ambulances at any given time, and send fire vehicle when ambulances were further away or not available. Under AHS consolidated dispatch, we do not know the number of ambulances available in our city and region, and therefore do not know when to dispatch a fire vehicle to respond to an emergency quicker.

The City of Red Deer, through the Office of the Mayor, continues to advocate to The Minister of Health to reverse this decision immediately. The City of Red Deer is joined by Mayors in Lethbridge, Calgary, and the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo, as we call on the Province of Alberta to overturn Alberta Health Services' decision.

Share your story

If you have had a negative experience trying to access emergency response since the transition of EMS Dispatch to the Province, email to share your story and your feedback with provincial decision makers, or share your story on social media and include the hashtag #secondscount.

Voice your concern

Seconds Count - Help Keep EMS Dispatch Local (pdf)

If you're concerned about the changes to emergency ambulance dispatch, click the link below to share your feedback with provincial decision makers.

Voice your concerns using our form letter

Adriana LaGrange, Minister of Health and MLA Red Deer North 
Jason Stephan, MLA Red Deer South