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St. Albert, AHS agree to new EMS funding deal

New contract involves a $600,000 per year funding increase from the province for the next 2.5 years
St. Albert operates four ambulances, and its integrated Fire Services system has more than 80 staff. FILE/Photo

The City of St. Albert has a new contract with Alberta Health Services dictating how much funding the provincial government gives the city each year to provide emergency medical services (EMS).

A report to council written by the city's fire chief and director of emergency services, Everett Cooke, says St. Albert is one of seven municipalities to still provide EMS under contract to Alberta Health Services. The provincial government created AHS in 2008 to consolidate the work being done by numerous regional health authorities.

St. Albert has had two contracts with AHS since 2009, Cooke wrote, and negotiations on a third got underway last year.

The new 30-month contract unanimously approved by council on May 7 includes an annual funding increase of about $600,000 and the creation of a governance committee to discuss service delivery. However, Cooke wrote city administration was looking for a longer term (seven years) contract and more resources to help with staff well-being. 

When it comes to the funding increase, Coun. Ken MacKay said he wasn't sure if the city got what it was asking for, or more or less.

“It's a hard question to answer because I wasn't involved in the negotiations, so I don't even know how much of an increase we were asking for and if that was reasonable,” he said. 

“It would be nice to have gotten more money just to reflect the actual costs, but I guess if that's what they're offering, it doesn't look like we have, really, any way of negotiating anything different, so we're going to have to take what they offer us.”

Cooke's report also details a lengthy negotiation process that was affected by the provincial government's announcement in November that AHS was going to be divided into four separate agencies.

“Representatives from both St. Albert and AHS met on multiple occasions; however, it was clear by September 2023 that negotiations were ineffective, as little to no advancement on a new agreement had been made,” Cooke wrote.

Negotiations began again in November, Cooke's report says, although an official from Alberta Health was now involved, given the uncertainty of AHS' future.

Coun. Shelley Biermanski said she thinks it's too early to say how St. Albert's EMS system will be affected by the changes being made to AHS, but she does think the province is making positive changes.

“I don't see that it'll be anything detrimental in the next few years,” she said, adding, “but who knows for sure, right?”

Cooke wrote the November negotiations seemed favourable, but “on February 28, 2024, the City of St. Albert was notified that due to circumstances relating to the reorganization of [AHS] and the creation of the new Acute Care division, the term of the new contract would be [2.5] years expiring September 2026 [and] no extension would be included in this new contract.”

“Since this time, much lobbying has occurred and although the contract term will remain, an extension of [2.5] years has now been included, although there is no guarantee of this option being exercised by AHS,” he wrote. “By not delivering the confidence of a long-range contract, considerations must be given to the procurement of replacement ambulances and equipment as well as the hiring of any additional staff for the city's forthcoming new fire hall.”

Another new piece of the contract is “language relating to AHS having the first right of refusal to purchase St. Albert assets at the end of term,” Cooke wrote.

Cooke also noted in 2026 the province could decide to take over the provision of EMS in St. Albert, which “may result in service delays, an increased demand on the city’s [Medical First Response] program and a loss of situational awareness for the city.”

The $600,000 annual funding increase means the province will be funding St. Albert's EMS system to the tune of about $3.4 million each year until the fall of 2026. Council heard on May 7 the budgeted operating cost for the service in 2024, including staff, is $5.29 million.

“Staff [and] the chief administrative officer have been working very hard with AHS to arrive at a contract for the provision of service that we can live with,” Coun. Wes Brodhead said prior to voting.

“Hopefully these sorts of negotiations will bear fruit in the long-term.”

Jack Farrell

About the Author: Jack Farrell

Jack Farrell joined the St. Albert Gazette in May, 2022.
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