AHS reveals ambulance response times

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Data shows St. Albert needs third ambulance, says fire chief

New data on ambulance response times in Edmonton suggests that St. Albert’s emergency service has gone downhill since 2009, says the city’s fire chief.

Alberta Health Services published ambulance response times on its website earlier this week for Edmonton and Calgary. This data was not previously available to the public.

The website shows monthly response times by ambulances for life-threatening events, the amount of time each ambulance typically spends at a hospital, and the number of times they’re called out each month.

Alberta Health Services (AHS) started with Edmonton and Calgary because they were the two biggest cities in the province, said spokesperson Kerry Williamson. Stats for other communities, including St. Albert, will be available by April.

The website suggests that Edmonton ambulances have responded to about 4,000 emergency calls a month since April 2011, arriving on site in less than 14 minutes 90 per cent of the time during life-threatening events.

That’s pretty close to the response times St. Albert is getting, said Ray Richards, the city’s fire chief, citing data that AHS had yet to make public. (St. Albert Fire Services gets quarterly reports on response times on a confidential basis.)

“The concern is 14 minutes at the 90th percentile is not what was promised when the [ambulance]system switched over in 2009.”

St. Albert residents could get an ambulance within about nine minutes 90 per cent of the time when the city ran its own, Richards said. Now that AHS is in charge, these data suggest that the wait is up to 14 minutes.

“Fourteen minutes at the 90th percentile is not a very good number compared to where we were in April of 2009,” Richards said.

Fire crews have had to pick up the slack, his data suggested. Emergency medical personnel will call in firefighters when they need backup, Richards said, which makes those people unavailable to fight fires. His crews responded to 982 of these “pump-assist” calls in 2011, he noted, or about 98 per cent more than they did in 2007.

The data also suggests that Edmonton ambulances are being held up at hospitals longer now than they were last year. In 90 per cent of their call-outs in April 2011, the charts suggest, ambulances had to wait up to two hours before they could formally hand off their patients to the emergency department and be ready for their next call. Those maximum wait times spiked to 2.5 hours last September, and were still there as of January.

Calgary’s ambulances appear to be faster, according to the data. The charts suggest that Calgarians can get an ambulance in less than about 11 minutes 90 per cent of the time during a life-threatening event, with those ambulances spending up to 1.5 hours at a hospital before moving onto their next calls 90 per cent of the time.

Richards said he was looking forward to the public release of the St. Albert response times, and hoped they would increase public pressure to get the city a permanent third ambulance.

“There are a great many incidents [now]where we don’t have an ambulance in the city where we did before.”

The Edmonton and Calgary results can be found at www.albertahealthservices.ca/6339.asp.

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Kevin Ma

Kevin Ma joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2006. He writes about Sturgeon County, education, the environment, agriculture, science and aboriginal affairs. He also contributes features, photographs and video.