Paramedics union raises concerns about funding for ambulance services
By Yolanda Cole,
The union representing paramedics employed by Alberta Health Services says reduced funding for ambulance services in the provincial budget could lead to more frequent “code reds.”
But Alberta Health says changes in the ambulance services budget won’t translate to cuts to front-line services.
A code red, or lack of ambulances, in Calgary Thursday led to 45 additional units being drawn into the city to respond to 911 calls as slippery conditions led to a spike in injuries from falls.
Mike Parker, president of the Health Sciences Association of Alberta, said paramedics are facing ambulance shortages on a regular basis. He’s concerned that funding outlined in the budget could make the problem worse.
According to the provincial budget released Thursday, $477 million was budgeted for ambulance services in the province in the 2016-2017 fiscal year. Actual spending in the area is forecast to reach $488 million by the end of March. In contrast, spending on ambulances is budgeted at $471 million for the 2017-2018 fiscal year.
“There’s about 17 million bucks that are missing from those two points there,” Parker said.
“And right on top of that conversation, Calgary had a bit of snow yesterday, pushing their EMS services into code red for a sustained amount of time. So the two pieces don’t quite match. We are underfunded on EMS, we don’t have enough resources today. A reduction in this budget does nothing to help the citizens of this province.”
But Timothy Wilson, press secretary for Health Minister Sarah Hoffman, said Alberta Health has been clear with Alberta Health Services that no front-line services will be cut.
“Savings are being achieved because we have paid off a number of ambulances, and through the relocation of Southern Alberta Dispatch to Quarry Park,” Wilson said in a statement.
“No savings will be found on the front lines.”
Nicholas Thain, executive director of EMS operations for the south sector of Alberta Health Services, told Postmedia on Thursday that in the event of a code red, ambulances from outside the city are often called in to assist.
On Thursday morning, when EMS received twice their normal call volume in Calgary, including 105 calls related to falls on ice and snow, Thain said 45 units that don’t normally respond to 911 calls — including field trainers and leadership staff — were dispatched to make resources available.