Ambulance wait times, code reds increasing again
City to push for third full-time ambulance in new agreement
By: Peter Boer
| Posted: Saturday, Sep 01, 2012 06:00 am
Ambulance response times are on the rise again, along with how often the St. Albert has no ambulances available to respond to emergencies, says the city’s fire chief.
A graph contained in the city’s second-quarter report shows St. Albert’s two full-time ambulances, when dispatched within St. Albert, are meeting the professional standard of responding in less than nine minutes, 90 per cent of the time.
When dispatched to other communities, St. Albert’s ambulances are taking more than 13 minutes to arrive because of the extra distance they have to travel, said chief Ray Richards.
“You would expect that number to be bigger,” Richards said.
The picture for St. Albert overall, however, is again growing grim.
According to public data posted to the Alberta Health Services (AHS) website, the average response time is starting to climb again after dipping below the 10-minute mark in March. The average time now stands at approximately 12 minutes, 90 per cent of the time.
That number includes the response times for a peak-hour ambulance operating out of the Sturgeon Community Hospital from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. and ambulances responding from outside of St. Albert.
“We know that there’s a lot of ambulances coming here from other places,” Richards said. “(AHS) uses a geographical area, so for the St. Albert area they could be coming from anywhere.”
The 12-minute average is better than the 17-minute time recorded in May of last year, but Mayor Nolan Crouse still wants to see it improve.
“It’s shown kind of a steady decline for the last while but there’s been a bit of a blip up last month,” Crouse said. “But from the time I expressed my concern to the province — and most know I was vocal and disgusted with the communication process and bottom-line results — I still don’t see us where we need to be.”
Richards also said there have been more “code reds” recently — times when St. Albert has no ambulances available. While Richards wasn’t able to say exactly how many have occurred, they have happened several times a week, sometimes even several times a day.
“It seems to go in cycles,” Richards said. “This time of year it’s a bit odd – they’re happening multiple times a week.”
And that includes the ambulance stationed at the Sturgeon, which the province added in the summer of 2011 after repeated complaints of long wait times.
Back in February, the city was upset because the province never shared data on what that ambulance did during its shift, and because it always seemed to be unavailable when it was needed. Both Richards and Chris Jardine, general manager of community and protective services, say they are receiving a little more information about that ambulance, but not much.
“I’ll be fair to AHS — we don’t get the direct dispatching calls (for that ambulance), so in fairness to them, we don’t see it as often as we know where ours are,” Jardine said.
The city keeps track of its two full-time ambulances for safety reasons, but AHS tracks the ambulance at the Sturgeon.
“The data we get on that last unit shows that unit is here in the city,” Richards said. “In terms of utilization, it’s here a lot.”
Both the city and the province were scheduled to renegotiate St. Albert’s ambulance service contract by March, but the province has extended the deal for one year. The city is pushing for a third full-time ambulance.
“As part of our proposal to them, we have provided that option and are strongly pushing that option,” said Jardine. “At the end of the day, it’s their decision if they will provide that.”