AHS to launch external review of ambulance response in fatal dog attack

Alberta Health Services (AHS) says an independent review will take place on the response to a fatal dog attack in Calgary last Sunday.

CEO Mauro Chies told reporters Thursday that the agency in charge of the province’s ambulance services has conducted an internal review of the response, but another pair of objective eyes is needed.

“We are aware of the concerns expressed about the time it took for an ambulance to arrive at the scene and we take those concerns very seriously,” Chies said.

It took an ambulance 30 minutes to get to 86-year-old Betty Ann Williams, who had been attacked by three dogs in the city’s Capitol Hill neighbourhood and died from her injuries.

The reviewer will be from out-of-province and external to Alberta’s system, but familiar with EMS dispatch and 911 protocols.

“The independent review will look into the events surrounding the calls to EMS dispatch, call-handling protocols inside EMS and with other agencies, ambulance response time, and availability of ambulances at the time,” Chies said.

A final report is expected to be delivered by the end of September, Chies said.

AHS conducted an internal EMS review of the response early this week, which found response times were appropriate based on the information provided by the initial 911 call.

According to Chies, EMS dispatchers initially deemed the dog bite as non-life-threatening based on communication they received from the City of Calgary 911 call centre.

“We then subsequently received a second call from the 911 dispatch centre informing us that the patient’s injuries were very serious and that EMS was required immediately,” Chies said.

An ambulance arrived approximately nine to 10 minutes after the second call, he added.

The AHS CEO said there is also an ongoing “quality assurance review” meant to find areas where the overall system response could be improved.

Chies offered condolences to the family of the 86-year-old woman and those who responded at the scene. He also thanked the first responders and AHS staff.

A neighbour, Nicola, whose full name CBC is withholding to protect her identity, called 911 that day. 

“I said, ‘There’s an 80-year-old woman that’s been mauled by three dogs,'” she said, adding that the whole thing was traumatic as the senior had significant injuries. 

Response inappropriate, Kenney says

Premier Jason Kenney said Thursday that it was inadequate that it took so long for an ambulance to arrive.

Alberta Health Services must get to the bottom of what went wrong to make sure it never happens again, he said.

In this year’s provincial budget, the province committed an additional $64 million to the EMS system, which saw a 30 per cent increase in call volumes in the past year.

The news comes in a year of many-fold increases in ambulance red alerts and 911 urgent disconnects. A red alert is when no ambulance is available to respond to calls and an urgent disconnect is when a 911 call taker must hang up to respond to incoming calls.

Chies said he did not know whether the system was in a state of red alert, and that would be something the external reviewer would take a look at.

Calgary Mayor Jyoti Gondek will speak to reporters later this evening about EMS and 911 response.

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