According to new data from Alberta Health Services, the Edmonton area is constantly dependent on ambulance services and more often than not there are none available to respond to emergencies.
Historically, Code Reds happened during major disasters such as the 1987 Black Friday tornado in Edmonton, the 2000 Pine Lake twister in central Alberta, or the 2018 Humboldt Broncos bus accident in Saskatchewan, said Mike Parker, president of the Health Sciences Association of Alberta.
But now, it is a regular occurrence.
“In the 911 system for our paramedics in Alberta, we are at that level of call volume every day. There are no available units. There are no paramedics to answer your calls,” Parker said Monday.
Parker said some ambulance workers are running back-to-back 12-hour shifts with forced overtime on a daily basis. He said 911 operators have been forced to hang on to those seeking medical help.
“They are hanging on to you because they have to go on the next call and they don’t have any paramedics to send to handle your call. This is what the system in Alberta looks like today,” Parker said.
Alberta Health Services confirmed that red alerts are becoming more common in Calgary and Edmonton, which the health authority said are the only places where data is tracked.
“The increase in red alert is due to the continued high volume of 911 calls, which is approximately 30 percent higher than pre-pandemic call volumes,” said AHS spokeswoman Kerry Williamson.
Data from AHS shows a sharp increase in code reds in Edmonton that began at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In January 2020, there were 18 red alerts, resulting in no ambulances for less than an hour in total.
Fast forward to January 2022, and in total there were 1,233 code raids with no crew available in about 40 hours. It was the worst month in the data released via FOIP request (Scroll down to see more.,
“We know it has ripple effects outside the city of Edmonton and, for the first time, paramedics in Spruce Grove, Stony Plain, St. Albert, Fort Saskatchewan and Sherwood Park were more able to answer calls in Edmonton than in their own communities. Time spent,” said opposition NDP health critic David Shepherd.
“The system has been run too lean for too long,” he said.
“We expected a lot from the paramedics in the system and we pushed them too far. Now we are starting to see the impact.”
Alberta Health said every province is being affected in the same way. Ministry spokesman Steve Buick said there is no argument that EMS response times have been longer than last summer and that much longer in Edmonton.
Buick notes that the AHS response time target is eight minutes at the median and 12 minutes at the 90th percentile (the longest 10 percent of responses). He said that in June, the actual number was about eight minutes in the middle and 14 minutes in the 90th percentile.
“The timing is much longer than it was two years ago and many reactions take much longer, but the system is not ‘collapsed’ or anything like that,” Buick said.
He said the government would continue to support Edmonton EMS to reduce response times.
The province said it has funded nine new ambulances that were on the road by the end of June: five in Edmonton and four in Calgary. Buick said there will be 11 more by the end of September.
Alberta NDP says Calgary EMS face struggle in Calgary when it comes to response time
The HSAA worries that the frequency of code reds could become the norm unless Alberta makes even bigger changes.
“We can hire all the ambulances we want, but we run four or five empty shifts in a week without paramedics.
“We don’t have the people – so you want to get to the root of it, we have to retain the people we have now.”
Parker said providing full-time shifts to more workers and bringing back safe consumption sites with wraparound services would help ease the burden.
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