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Willow Creek council will protest Alberta Health Services decision on response unit pilot project

MD of Willow Creek council doesn’t agree with a decision by Alberta Health Services to cancel an emergency response unit pilot project.
The pilot project allowed firefighters to transport critical patients emergency response vehicles, which are outfitted like ambulances, when ambulances were unavailable.
Council will draft a letter to the minister of health expressing their dissatisfaction.
The decision came Nov. 25 after a lengthy discussion and presentation by emergency services manager Travis Coleman.
Coleman said Alberta Health Services has cancelled the pilot project, meaning firefighters can no longer transport patients to hospital or ambulances.
The MD of Willow Creek has three emergency response units based in Claresholm, Nanton, and Fort Macleod.
“I feel this is a huge mistake,” Coleman said. “We were a viable option.”
Coleman said Alberta Health Services claimed a 96 per cent response time for ambulance service.
Coleman and Claresholm fire chief and MD of Willow Creek by-law officer Kelly Starling know this is not accurate.
Coleman said the second ambulance based in Claresholm shuts down evenings and weekends. However, he discovered the ambulance remains signed into the system when there is no one to staff it.
“They don’t log off,” he said, meaning the statistics look as if Claresholm has ambulance coverage and back-up, when that is not the case.
Coleman also made Alberta Health Services aware of that.
Coleman expressed concerns Alberta Health Services, although not allowing firefighters to transport patients, will call those same firefighters at 2 a.m. to do a lift assist.
“They use us when they want, they don’t use us when they don’t want,” Coleman said.
Coleman said the MD of Willow Creek’s response units were working well.
Having them in use, allows ambulances to stay in their own communities, instead of the need to respond for a transport and leave their own town without any coverage.
Coleman introduced Dave Cox, the fire chief from Pincher Creek, who described his service.
Once Cox was finished, discussion returned to the MD of Willow Creek’s situation.
It was noted Pincher Creek was called out to a life-threatening situation that took them 43 minutes to respond.
The MD had a fully staffed crew less than five minutes from Claresholm General Hospital, but was not allowed to transport that patient.
MD of Willow Creek chief administrative officer Cynthia Vizzutti said this seems like the MD is making Alberta Health Services look bad.
It is as if Alberta Health Services suspects the MD of Willow Creek of usurping their service.
The more the MD of Willow Creek says and does, the less Alberta Heealth Servicesr wants the service.
“This cost Alberta Health Services to provide this service zero dollars,” Vizzutti said. “We seem to have offended them.”
Vizzutti then turned her attention to the recent meeting Willow Creek representatives had with Alberta Health Services where they were told the pilot project was ending.
“Their minds were already made up,” Vizzutti said.
The explanation Alberta Health Services gave for ending the pilot was the MD of Willow Creek did only two transports.
Vizzutti said Alberta Health Services made the guidelines so strict, they were prevented from doing more transports.
Vizzutti is also confused by the provincial government’s actions.
Most of the funding for these three emergency response units came from one provincial government department.
Now, they are being mothballed by another department.
Vizzutti provided some background on why the response units were acquired.
“The motivation was the concern for wait times,” Vizzutti said, because most ratepayers are already 20 minutes out from ambulances.
Starling added some information about response times, saying Alberta Health Services statistics are based on when the ambulance leaves the hall, not when it arrives.
So if it takes two minutes to get to the ambulance and an hour to get to the patient, it is the two minutes that is reported — not the hour.
Starling also said when a Claresholm ambulance makes a trip to Calgary, it can be absorbed into the Calgary system and do work there for hours, leaving Claresholm with no coverage, instead of returning home as soon as possible.
Vizzutti said not having the ability to transport critical patients is putting personnel in a horrible situation.
Coleman said firefighters, with medical training, are allowed to do everything medically, but they are not allowed to drive a patient four blocks to a hospital. They can do everything else though.
“I think we filled a big void,” said Reeve Neil Wilson, adding Alberta Health Services should prove there is no void.
Coleman said these emergency response units are a huge asset to the fire departments, even without the permission to transport patients.
They can treat a patient inside one, when the weather is bad, while they wait for an ambulance.
Coleman pointed out they are not new. Nanton and Fort Macleod had these for years, so theirs were replaced. The only new one is in Claresholm.
Coleman also pointed out a concern with the Alberta Health Services statistics. He said they based their decision on percentages, saying the MD of Willow Creek made two transports out of 2,000 calls. However, not all those calls were life-threatening, so it was not an accurate comparison.
Wilson asked council if it wanted to continue with these response units.
Vizzutti said right now there are three units, and close to 40 trained personnel.
Coun. Ian Sundquist said council has to keep working at this, and their goal has not changed.
It was agreed to draft a letter to the minister of health outlining council’s concerns at their Dec. 9 meeting.
In the meantime they will meet with representatives of other jurisdictions, and Coleman will collaborate with his colleagues on identifying challenges in emergency medical services in rural Alberta.