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Province to move ahead with plan to centralize EMS dispatch services

Last Updated Oct 16, 2020 at 11:26 pm MST

(Tom Ross - 660NEWS)

CALGARY (660 NEWS) – The province will be moving ahead with a plan to centralize EMS dispatch services affecting Calgary and several other municipalities in Alberta despite requests from mayors to reject the plan due to concerns around response times mainly.

Health Minister Tyler Shandro notified them it will move ahead in a letter sent to mayors on Friday afternoon.

In the letter, Shandro said, “AHS has given notice to end these contracts and integrate EMS dispatch with the rest of the province.”

Shandro pushed back on the mayors and said the choice to centralize is “best practice.”

Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi, along with counterparts from Lethbridge, Red Deer and Wood Buffalo, have been trying to fight back against the plan.

Mayor Naheed Nenshi speaks to media about Calgary’s opposition to the province’s proposal to centralize EMS dispatch services, as Fire Chief Steve Dongworth watches from behind.

That included a meeting with the minister last month in Edmonton.

Some had raised concerns that moving EMS dispatch out of the local call centre would reduce the quality of service, such as with dispatchers not being familiar with addresses and callers waiting as they have to be transferred back to other dispatchers.

In the letter, Shandro rejected those concerns.

“But I must judge by the evidence today, not in the past; and the plain fact is that dispatch and overall response times are similar across the province – and within AHS’ targets – in the four cities that dispatch ambulances and in those that are dispatched by AHS. There is no reason to expect response times to change.”

Currently, EMS, Fire and Police dispatchers in Calgary work together in the same room for a locally integrated system, and the city said this improves communication as they work face-to-face.

Shandro also disputed the concerns raised by mayors about a possible loss of communication through the centralization plan.

“This is a critical point,” Shandro wrote. “While I respect your dedication to your local emergency services, the claim that safety and efficiency require all dispatchers to be in the same room is out of date; it ignores how ambulance services have evolved across Canada and in other countries.”

Alberta Health Minister Tyler Shandro in a file photo from Aug. 24, 2020.

Previously, at Calgary City Hall, councillors also heard from officials, including the Calgary Fire Department Chief Steve Dongworth, who also said this would have a negative effect. In addition, the Reeve of Foothills County, Suzanne Oel, told council they had been trying to return to an integrated system since they were centralized over a decade ago and her jurisdiction had experienced many of the concerns raised by the mayors.

Councillors voted against the plan and agreed to send a formal request to the province to reverse the decision.

The province added that the plan will save millions of dollars a year, and it will take a few months to go fully into effect. It will also cause some dispatchers in Calgary to lose their jobs.

In a joint statement, the mayors of Calgary, Red Deer, Lethbridge and Wood Buffalo voiced their displeasure at the announcement.

“We are strongly opposed to this Friday afternoon announcement by Minister Shandro, conveniently delivered just as the first major winter storm blows into Alberta. His letter contains many inaccuracies, and we will address these, together, early next week,” read the statement.

The Calgary Firefighters Association also said this will cause negative consequences, and “anything that increases response times is both callous and incredibly irresponsible.”

WATCH: Plan to centralize EMS dispatch going ahead