EMS union warns budget cuts will lead to more ambulance code reds in Alberta

By Heather Yourex,

The president of the Health Sciences Association of Alberta says a planned funding cut to the province’s ambulance services will lead to more ambulance shortages and code red alerts. A code red alert is called whenever there are no ambulances available to respond to emergency calls.
“Code reds are happening far too often,” Mike Parker said. “These are entirely due to a lack of ambulances and paramedics so we were shocked to see a $17-million cut to ambulance service next year.”
When the province released its budget this week, Alberta Health Services saw a 2.5 per cent boost in funding overall but ambulance services saw its allocation slashed from $488 million in 2016-2017 to $471 million in 2017-2018.
“This will see our ambulance resources fall even further behind as our budget shrinks while demand grows,” Parker said.
According to Alberta Health Services, Calgary experienced a code red alert for a short time Thursday morning after receiving more than 100 calls involving people slipping on ice.
An AHS spokesperson called the incident a one-day anomaly and added EMS was able to meet demand by freeing up 46 additional resources to help respond to the increased call volume, including 25 inter-facility transfer vehicles, seven ambulance on overtime, four EMS clinical educators and 10 supervisors.
Parker says events like snowfall or the annual flu season can also cripple the ambulance system.
“I’m hearing from our members that they’re tending to patients on the cold streets for an hour while they wait for a transport-capable ambulance to take a patient to hospital.”
An Alberta Health spokesperson says the reduced funding should not lead to any front-line cuts.
“We have been clear with AHS that no front-line services will be cut,” Tim Wilson said in an e-mail to Global News. “Savings are being achieved because we have paid off a number of ambulances and through the relocation of Southern Alberta Dispatch to Quarry Park.”
According to AHS, there were 39 red alerts called in Calgary in 2015. That’s less than the 60 called in 2014 but well above the 14 called in 2013 and 10 in 2012.
In Edmonton, where red alerts are tracked by the minute, there were 27 hours worth of red alerts in 2015, down from the 2014 high of 49 hours but still well above the 19 hours spent in red alerts during 2013, and 13 hours in 2012.