Ambulance response times rising
Chief hopes report will lead to improvements
By: Peter Boer
| Posted: Saturday, Mar 09, 2013 06:00 am
Response times for ambulance in St. Albert are still increasing and while a recent raft of recommendations on how to improve service might help, it doesn’t address what one manager feels is the core issue – getting more ambulances on the road.
“I don’t believe the report dealt with one of the biggest issues that I believe is plaguing service in the province and that is the overall number of resources available,” said Chris Jardine, general manager of community and protective services, in response to the Health Quality Council’s report on ambulance service released Monday.
Like many communities, St. Albert has had its share of problems with ground ambulance service since the province took over responsibility in 2009. Call volumes are increasing. St. Albert only has two ambulances available, 24 hours a day, compared to the five it used to have. Code reds – periods where no ambulances are available to respond to calls – are on the rise. St. Albert ambulances are spending more time helping in other communities than before.
As a result of all these factors, response times are on the rise. The cities fourth-quarter report for 2012, released to city council at the end of February, showed that average emergency medical service (EMS) response times in St. Albert climbed 39 seconds in 2012, from 9:02 90 per cent of the time to 9:41 90 per cent of the time.
The city’s EMS and fire benchmark is to respond to calls within nine minutes, 90 per cent of the time.
EMS calls as a whole, factoring in response times to other communities, climbed 2:13 from 11:13 90 per cent of the time to 13:26.
Those trends are also showing up in the province’s numbers. Alberta Health Services’ most recent set of statistics for St. Albert’s ambulances shows the median response time slowly climbing towards eight minutes, with 90 per cent of calls being answered in a little less than 10 minutes.
Fire chief Ray Richards said the impact of growing call volumes is starting to show in the numbers.
“Our call volume is really up again in 2012 and if the ambulances are all tied up, then there could be some delay,” Richards said.
And that increase to response times is with the help of a “peak-hour car” in St. Albert, or an ambulance that helps on calls from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily. The city has long contended the ambulance, which arrives from Morinville and is stationed at the Sturgeon Community Hospital, is seldom available when it is really needed locally.
But Richards is hopeful some of the recommendations will free up some time for his ambulance crews, such as developing plans to keep to a minimum the amount of time ambulances spend waiting with patients at hospitals, and to stop using ambulances for routine patient transfers.
“If (ambulance workers) are sitting in hospital not doing calls, then the response will be longer. The same with transfers,” said Richards.
Alberta Health Services’ data shows that transfers make up a little more than half, on average, of St. Albert’s ambulance calls.
But the release of the report Monday, which was delayed several times, should hopefully clear the way for St. Albert to negotiate a new contract with Alberta Health Services for ambulance coverage.
Jardine had previously told council that negotiations were being held up until the report was released. The city’s contract with Alberta Health Services expires March 31, but council passed a six-month extension in December that will take effect on April 1.
“We haven’t seen anything in the report that we anticipate to be a significant deal breaker,” said Jardine. “I honestly don’t see anything yet that says we have to dramatically re-address the service contract.”
St. Albert is also still waiting to hear from the province on a change order it filed with the province. The city is asking for $300,000 for costs that were not included in the original contract such as additional vehicle maintenance, fuel and pharmaceuticals.