Alberta’s Health Minister is defending the plan to dissolve the Wood Buffalo EMS dispatch site.
Tyler Shandro was in Fort McMurray on Wednesday taking tours of the Northern Lights Regional Health Centre and the Willow Square Continuing Care Facility.
His visit comes a month after Alberta Health Services announced they would be transitioning operations at the dispatch site – along with those in Calgary, Lethbridge, and Red Deer – to one of the three provincial centres in Calgary, Edmonton, and Peace River.
Shandro tells Mix News they believe this is the best step towards ensuring Albertans get the best service possible.
“If you look at the response times in places where it is consolidated like Edmonton, let’s compare Calgary to Edmonton, the Calgary response times aren’t as good.”
Mayor Don Scott, however, doesn’t believe this is true.
In an open letter, he says this decision will cost valuable seconds on every call.
“Our Region is complex. It includes vast rural areas. As a result, local knowledge is essential for emergency dispatch. A provincial dispatcher will not know what a 9-1-1 caller means by the Bridge to Nowhere or Supertest.”
Scott also noted an example where a provincial dispatcher last month nearly sent an ambulance to Cheecham Lake instead of Cheecham Village, which is around 40 km apart. An RMWB dispatcher quickly noticed the error and was able to send the ambulance to the right spot.
“Mistakes like these can and will cost lives,” added Scott.
The province is expected to save over $6 million annually through the move.
Shandro says this decision was never about saving money but rather integrating these sites into a more advanced system.
“We need to get to a point where we can have a physician, for example, in the dispatch centre who can triage decisions. There are times where paramedics are having to take patients to the hospital when they don’t necessarily need to do that.”
They could instead be sent to one of their physicians or an organization focused on mental health supports.
Shandro did also note he would be open to having these saved funds be used to add more ambulances in these communities and across the province.
The entire transition is slated to happen over the next five months.