Alberta Liberals call on NDP to fix EMS, emergency room ‘crisis’

RYAN RUMBOLT (HTTPS://CALGARYHERALD.COM/AUTHOR/RCRUMBOLTPOSTMEDIA)

The provincial Liberals are calling on the NDP to fix issues leading to increased wait times in Alberta’s emergency rooms.

Alberta Liberal Leader David Khan said data collected by the party through freedom of information requests show “systemic issues” and “mismanagement” of the health-care system are causing a shortage of available staff, ambulances and hospital beds.

Numbers from the Liberals show there were 35 ambulance “Code Reds” (where no ambulance is available for 911 calls) in Alberta every month of 2016, with Calgary and Edmonton suffering the most frequent ambulance shortages.

That’s an average of more than one Code Red in the province every day in every month in 2016. “It’s just unacceptable in our province, in our society, to have ambulances not available for 911 calls,” Khan said in Calgary on Tuesday. “We all expect in that type of emergency — when we’re calling 911 — there’s going to be an ambulance there.”

In the event of a Code Red, ambulances from outside the city are often called in to assist local crews and take on emergency calls.

The Liberals’ data showed paramedics spent more than 650,000 hours that same year waiting to transfer care of patients to hospital staff. EMS staff also clocked more than 135,000 hours of overtime, for an estimated $10 million in additional wages at the taxpayers’ expense.

In Alberta, EMS workers waited an average of one hour for patient handover to ER staff. Khan said that means pulling a two-person crew and their ambulance out of service until the patient is transferred.

Those same handover times in the U.K. are an average of 15 minutes, according to the Liberals.

Calgary MLA Dr. David Swann said Alberta emergency rooms are in “crisis,” and Khan challenged the province to improve ER handover efficiency by hiring additional “intermediate” triage workers and adopting new technologies to “streamline” the process.

“In the short term we need more community care after regular hours, as well as paramedics and intermediate ER health care providers . . . Long term, we need to expand the continuing and community care to free up bed spaces,” Khan said.

The Liberals also identified issues with EMS and ER patients experiencing long hallway wait times because beds are being used by patients who would benefit more from community care.

Swann said these patients, called “bed blockers” by some in the healthcare field, are an additional drain on the healthcare system.

He said improving and expanding the AHS community paramedic program by hiring more paramedics — and allowing EMS crews to decline patient transport in select cases — could cut down on bed blockers and wait times in Alberta hospitals.

But the NDP said they have already taken steps to address issues raised by Khan and the Liberals, including a commitment to create 2,000 beds for long-term dementia patients by 2019 and expanding the community paramedic program.

The Liberals conducted an anonymous survey of Alberta paramedics this summer, something Health Minister Sarah Hoffman said is “directing patient and frontline feedback away from established processes within AHS and toward their own political party.”

Swann said the survey results will be released on Thursday and show EMS workers are facing personal and professional issues due to staffing challenges. AHS said paramedics work overtime as a “last resort … to ensure patient care is not impacted.”

Albertans with concerns about EMS services can contact the AHS Patient Feedback line at 1-855-550-2555.

RRumbolt@postmedia.com (mailto:RRumbolt@postmedia.com)

On Twitter: @RCRumbolt (https://twitter.com/RCRumbolt)

Updated: October 2, 2018

C A L G A R Y H E R A L D