The Town of Fort Macleod will turn over operation of its ambulance service to Alberta Health Services.
Council decided Sept. 26 it did not want to renew its contract to manage the system for Alberta Health Services.
“Ultimately we want the best possible service for our people of Fort Macleod,” Coun. Susan Koots said.
The topic generated a two-hour debate during the Sept. 26 regular council meeting.
Council is optimistic that turning the ambulance service over to Alberta Health Services will result in improved service for Fort Macleod residents.
“For us to turn it over there has to be a carrot,” Koots said. “To my understanding, that carrot is enhanced service.”
Council expects Alberta Health services will provide advanced life support service, which is higher than the basic life support service provided at present.
Since Alberta Health Services took control over ground ambulance service in the province, the Town of Fort Macleod has managed the local service.
Alberta Health Services provided the Town of Fort Macleod in 2010 with $815,480 to run the ambulance service.
The Town of Fort Macleod was asked by Alberta Health Services to prepare a five-year budget if it wanted to continue managing the ambulance service.
“Council needs to decide if they want to continue to be a contract provider,” acting municipal manager Gloria Schwindt said at the Sept. 26 meeting.
Mayor Shawn Patience said managing the ambulance service is a challenge for the Town of Fort Macleod, which is not in the business of health service delivery.
The Town of Fort Macleod office staff spends considerable time providing oversight of the ambulance service, Patience said.
Alberta Health Services will require the Town of Fort Macleod to manage the system for four months to provide time for a smooth transition.
Weighing on the side of turning the service over to Alberta Health Services is advanced life support services and eliminating staff time dedicated toward the ambulance.
Turning the service over to Alberta Health Services provides the chance to integrate the ambulance into the Fort Macleod Health Centre.
“We have to do what’s best for the citizens of Fort Macleod,” Patience said.
Factors weighing against giving up management included loss of direct oversight, employees being assigned to Fort Macleod from a regional pool and loss of control over infrastructure and equipment.
Patience told council the loss of control is not as big an issue as they might think.
“I want to make council aware the position of control is perceived, and not real,” Patience said.
“It’s not like our control is significant,” Schwindt said. “All we do is pay the bills.”
One issue that gave council pause is that if Fort Macleod divests management to Alberta Health Services, the ambulances go into a pool and can be dispatched to calls in other centres.
Fort Macleod firefighter Dan Neels, who was at the council meeting with ambulance director Dawn Marie Mackintosh Roy, asked who will respond to emergencies when there is no ambulance in town.
“I would expect a firefighter would have to make first medical response,” Patience said.
Mackintosh Roy said that would be the practice.
“If there is no ambulance in town, the fire trucks are sent out first,” said Mackintosh Roy, noting those costs are passed on to the patient.
At present, Fort Macleod has an old ambulance available for standby. That won’t be the case if Alberta Health Services takes charge.
Patience said that is an issue he will address with Alberta Health Services.
Mackintosh Roy told council the number of out-of-town transfers by the ambulance service is increasing 15 to 20 per cent every year.
That number will only grow once Alberta Health Services takes charge of the service, she added.
Mackintosh Roy also pointed out statistics indicate there has not been a strong demand for advanced life support service in Fort Macleod.
Council discussed submitting a budget to Alberta Health Services that includes an administrative position and funding for a second ambulance.
Schwindt told council Alberta Health Services is only offering a contract for one ambulance, and won’t cover the second or standby ambulance.
“I want them to give us the same funding they are giving us right now,” Coun. Gord Wolstenholme said. “If they don’t give us enough money, we have to divest.”
Council approved a motion by Koots to turn over management of the Fort Macleod ambulance service to Alberta Health Services.
“Health care belongs with health care,” Coun. Sharan Randle said.
Patience said discussion will take place to ensure Alberta Health Services addresses council’s concerns and that residents get the best possible service.
“Hopefully something good comes of it,” Koots said.