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Willow Creek, AHS discuss emergency medical services

Alberta Health Services is experiencing challenges in emergency medical services, and the MD of Willow Creek has a solution.

Dan Heyde, Randy Bryksa, Tony Pasich and Lorin Calder of Alberta Heath Services Emergency Medical Services appeared as a delegation at the Dec. 8 council meeting.

Bryksa described four challenges in particular that he said are a world-wide phenomenon. One is increased event volumes, which are up 30 per cent over the past eight months.

“We believe going forward that will be our new norm,” Bryksa said.

To combat that, AHS is looking at alternative transportation options such as taxis and family members.

“This is where the transportation society comes in,” Bryksa said.

Bryksa was referring to the Claresholm and District Transportation Society which offers that service. Bryksa said AHS is also looking at triaging 911 calls by putting those who can wait longer, in a line up, much like occurs in an emergency room.

Another challenge is  where ambulances have to wait at hospitals for extended periods. Bryksa said these have skyrocketed. AHS is addressing this issue by creating awareness that flow must continue through the hospital.

An integrated operation centre is another solution. It will function much like an air traffic controller, monitoring what comes into the hospital, the flow through, and discharge of patients from the hospital.

“There is a belief if you come in by ambulance, you go home by ambulance,” Bryksa said.

This is not the case, and there are alternatives to leave the hospital.

A third challenge is fluctuating EMS staffing levels.

“Our staff are tired, they’re fatigued,” Bryksa said.

That has led to a higher number of mental health claims, workers’ compensation board claims, and the request for last-minute days off. Bryksa said the Calgary zone has hired 35 front line staff to combat this.

The final challenge is suburban rural resources coming into the city.

Bryksa said they are looking at dispatch, and working on keeping rural ambulances in rural areas. Pasich said the south zone, which includes Granum and Fort Macleod, has added extra staff to cover sick members, including 12 casuals. Pasich noted they have more staff today than they did last year.

Bryksa added Emergency Medical Services has more mental health programs than across Alberta Health Services.

Coun. Glen Alm said the MD of Willow Creek bought three emergency response units which went through a pilot project and extension.

“We think we can help alleviate some of your problems,” Alm said, emphasizing the units can transport people at no cost to Alberta Health Services.

“We think that’s a no-brainer,” Alm added.

Alm realized there are staffing and liability concerns, but a lot of emergency services volunteers are Alberta Health Services staff. Alm also noted the response times for life-threatening calls meet Alberta Health Services’ criteria, but when an ambulance is not available the municipality can pick up the slack.

“I don’t have a good answer for you,” Bryksa said. “I’m going to acknowledge your frustration in this.” Bryksa said the challenge faced is that using off-duty Alberta Health Services staff contributes to their fatigue.

Bryksa also said the system is borderless so if an MD of Willow Creek vehicle is pulled into the system it will not stay in this area. Bryksa pointed out Alberta Health licenses ambulances, not Alberta Health Services.

Coun. Ian Sundquist asked why vehicles would go into the system when the MD of Willow Creek owns them. Bryksa said they would be like other contracted services.

Sundquist said the pilot project worked well but council never got an answer as to why it was stopped.

“We know it worked,” Sundquist said. Bryksa said he would have to re-visit the file.

Heyde said he worked with Willow Creek staff on that pilot project. They looked at certain targets and, after one year, had two events. There was not enough volume to determine if the project worked or not.

Sundquist said a lot of policies are written for urban areas, whereas rural services cover vast areas.

“It didn’t cost anything,” Sundquist added. “We paid for it.”

Coun. Evan Berger asked why Alberta Health Services could not let the MD of Willow Creek transport people.

“This is common sense guys,” Berger said.

Bryksa said they have struck a group to look at the transport of people and what is reasonable to not require an ambulance.

“We are looking into it,” Bryksa said.

Berger cited the example of a relative waiting in the hospital for an ambulance 2 1/2 hours to go to Calgary. The doctor was ready to call STARS as the situation became more serious, when her husband instead took her in his truck to Calgary.

“We’re looking into it,” Bryksa reiterated.

Coun. Earl Hemmaway said he is sure the Willow Creek units can fit into the system.

“Why can’t we all work together?” Hemmaway asked.

Reeve Maryanne Sandberg said the council met with Health Minister Jason Copping.

Sandberg asked if Alberta Health Services is seriously looking at the transportation society.

Bryksa said they are, noting he is not happy with the numbers and they can do a better job of deferring more transports to the transportation society.

Sundquist, who sits on the society’s board, said it was working before.

“We’ll continue doing work where we can,” Bryksa said.

Coun. John Van Driesten said it saddened him politics is getting in the way of health.

“We can help that problem,”  Van Driesten said. “I want this better.”

“We acknowledge we have challenges,” Bryksa said.

Sandberg acknowledged Alberta Health Services has staffing shortages, and the MD of Willow Creek. wants to support them in getting more staff.

“I really appreciate the time talking to you,” Bryksa said. “We will be out with you again.”

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