The Emergency in the Emergency Services

2,522 red alarms were reported in the first half of 2022, or 420 on average per month. The most incidents were reported in April (618), which was the highest month ever. Red alerts were reported 1,233 times in the first half of 2021 and 2,358 times in total, so this year’s stats have already eclipsed those totals. When there are no ambulances in the system to respond to emergency calls, it is referred to as a red alert. The Opposition NDP provided the information to CBC News after obtaining it through a freedom of information request.

The findings, according to Mike Parker, president of the Health Sciences Association of Alberta, corroborated the union’s long-standing claim that the province’s health-care system is in chaos.”Time and time again, AHS will say that there’s always an ambulance available. And the data does not support that conversation,” Parker said. “It supports what we’ve been saying from the beginning. We don’t have enough people, we don’t have enough paramedics on the streets to take care of Albertans’ needs.”

According to AHS, the severe strain on the system is a result of higher-than-normal numbers of seriously ill patients, the ongoing effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, and an increase in staff absences due to illness. Others, though, have been complaining about the ongoing red alarms for years. Critics said that the system was on the verge of collapse in late 2020.”We can’t continue to blame it on staff shortages due to COVID or those sorts of factors,” said Lorian Hardcastle, who teaches health law and policy at the University of Calgary.

Nine new ambulances were put into service in Calgary and Edmonton as of the beginning of July, according to AHS. It was intended to lessen some of the pressure. Parker, however, referred to the information as a “non-announcement,” pointing out that the issue was the lack of paramedics available to finish the job, not the cars they travel in. The NDP demanded in a release that paramedics be guaranteed a full-time permanent contract, that shifts end on schedule, and that harm reduction services be “urgently expanded” to help with the opioid problem.

In an emailed statement Wednesday evening, AHS said 10 new ambulances will be acquired in September, along with more staff. It reiterated the impact of the pandemic on EMS, saying “this is not unique to Alberta — EMS is under similar pressure in health-care jurisdictions across Canada. The key factor in EMS red alerts remains the amount of time EMS crews must remain in hospital emergency departments waiting to safely transfer care,” it said.

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