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Council questions chief paramedic on EMS dispatch change

Last Updated Nov 3, 2020 at 6:51 am MST

CALGARY (660 NEWS) — After the province moved ahead with a decision to consolidate EMS dispatch services, bringing an end to the integrated system in Calgary where EMS, fire and police dispatchers worked out of the same room, councillors had the long-awaited opportunity to ask questions of Alberta Health Service’s chief paramedic.

Darren Sandbeck appeared before council on Monday to try and address the concerns, as the mayor and his colleagues have expressed worries that there was not enough work done to gather concrete evidence supporting the change.

One main sticking point is the AHS claim that response times would not be negatively affected by consolidating dispatch and handling EMS services from a provincial call centre. This data point has been disputed by other jurisdictions where dispatching is handled by the province who said that response times have been lengthened.

“We asked for some access to some data to understand what had happened in the rest of the province because that’s I think a critical piece that’s missing here,” Mayor Naheed Nenshi said. “You folks have asserted many, many times that response times did not change but we’ve never seen any evidence of that.”

RELATED: Mayors unite in opposition to EMS dispatch centralization

Nenshi, who has been critical of the proposal ever since it was first announced, also demanded an apology from Sandbeck after the mayor was called a “liar” in a letter. Sandbeck had just responded to a question about response times and was apologetic about not having enough data ready at hand for the councillors.

“Mr. Sandbeck, we’ve been very nice and respectful today. You sent a letter to every member of my city council and every MLA calling me a liar for saying what you just said. So, we’re giving you the opportunity right now to apologize publicly and retract your statement so this doesn’t have to go any further.”

In the letter, Sandbeck appeared to write that Nenshi claiming “people are going to die” because of the decision was “untrue and disrespectful” and AHS is dedicated to patient care.

Sandbeck said that he believed it was the Minister of Health who had sent that letter in question. Nenshi fired back quoting the letter that said it was a statement from Sandbeck himself. The chief paramedic then added that he could not recall saying anything like this at a press conference and that he has no control over what the minister shares.

“So, you’re denying making that statement now?” Nenshi asked.

Dr. Ted Braun, AHS vice-president and medical director of operations, then said that this was not the proper place for such a discussion.

Sandbeck also promised to make some more data available in the future and to have some more conversations with council about the matter.

It was not the only heated moment during the meeting, with Ward 13 Councillor Dianne Colley-Urquhart calling out the presentation.

“Even the tone of this presentation today is somewhat offensive,” she said. “It implies that the facts and the data that we have been presenting are all a myth.”

Nenshi also questioned the data around this move saving $6 million dollars, as he said there was also no evidence proving where this money is coming from.

The city has maintained the position that removing the integrated system will end up lengthening response times and putting people at risk, with officials saying that the current 911 system is a gold standard that is well regarded in emergency circles.

In September, Mayor Nenshi was joined by the mayors of Lethbridge, Red Deer and Wood Buffalo for a meeting with Health Minister Tyler Shandro where they relayed the concerns directly in Edmonton. Weeks later, Shandro sent out a letter on a Friday afternoon informing them that he was still going ahead with the shift.