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Mayors of four Alberta cities frustrated by EMS dispatch services consolidation

Mayors of four cities affected by a change to emergency medical dispatch services say they were blindsided by the move and believe it will put lives of their residents at risk.

Alberta announced Tuesday that it is consolidating all EMS dispatch call sites to save money and improve patient care.

The change will affect EMS 911 dispatch services in Calgary, Lethbridge, Red Deer and the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo, which includes Fort McMurray.

Alberta Health Services has been running a dispatch system for the rest of the province since 2009.

It says the consolidation will allow the EMS system to send the nearest available ambulance to a patient regardless of geographic boundaries.

Red Deer Mayor Tara Veer says she is frustrated to be revisiting the issue again after several previous governments rejected a similar change.

"This issue is about people and not politics because, in the chain of survival, seconds matter," Veer said during an online news conference Wednesday with Wood Buffalo Mayor Don Scott, Lethbridge Mayor Chris Spearman and Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi.

Scott, who is a former member of the legislature, said he's strongly opposed to the government's decision.

"This is about service delivery and saving lives," he said. "Our current model works and, for this region, it has been in place since 1979."

Scott said his region has a service delivery area that is the size of Nova Scotia.

"We often describe our location by landmarks and markers," he said. "There is absolutely no doubt the AHS model will cause delays. Time is lives."

Spearman said the change will also jeopardize a timely response to EMS service in Lethbridge and parts of southern Alberta.

"This is about saving lives, period," he said. "A consolidated system will mean people will die unnecessarily."

Nenshi agreed that people will die under the new dispatching system.

"When you are phoning 911, you are phoning 911 because you are having the worst day of your life — something extremely bad is happening," he said. "The system we have right now allows you to get the help you need quickly and efficiently; the system that is being proposed requires you to tell your story again and again and maybe again.

"It means that it will take longer for you to get help, and it won't save any money."

The government has said it will save more than $6 million per year by consolidating the services.

Nenshi said any cost savings are already being subsidized by the municipalities.

The four mayors have asked for a meeting with Health Minister Tyler Shandro and called on Premier Jason Kenney to reverse the decision.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 5, 2020

The Canadian Press