Ambulances diverted over 30K times into Calgary over last three years

Data from a freedom of information (FOI) request released by Alberta’s NDP opposition shows ambulance diversions out of their home areas have increased dramatically in the Calgary area.

It shows EMS crews from Strathmore, Chestermere, Airdire, Cochrane and other nearby communities have been diverted to Calgary 31,138 times over the last three years, increasing as much as threefold in that period.

“The trends we see are distressing and must be a call for action,” said NDP municipal affairs critic Joe Ceci. “We do not need more reports, we don’t need more committees. Albertans need this UCP government to listen to the paramedics on the front lines and to act.”

Ceci points out the diversions are putting communities at risk. He says that as more ambulances are diverted from their home stations into urban areas, the more residents of smaller communities are put in jeopardy when they have their own emergencies.

These diversions coincide with the province experiencing every month hundreds of EMS red alerts — when no ambulance is available to respond to calls in an emergency — which is a dramatic increase over pre-pandemic levels.

Steve Buick, press secretary for Health Minister Jason Copping, says the NDP is accusing the government of “doing nothing” to score political points, but efforts put forward in the spring budget are starting to ease the pressure on the ambulance system

“That’s just false,” he writes in an emailed statement to CBC News. “In fact, with the government’s support, AHS (Alberta Health Services) is addressing the issue specifically, and they’ve cut these trips in half in the past four months.”

$64M added to EMS system

He underlines that the spring provincial budget added $64 million, or 12 per cent more funding, to the EMS system and added new ambulances in Calgary, which will help reduce demands on EMS in the surrounding communities.

This addition is already having an effect, he says, pointing out how diversions have decreased by half since the money was invested in the past four months.

In particular, Airdrie — where the NDP numbers show a threefold increase in diversions from 2019-20 to 2021-22 — has made good progress, Buick says.

A spokesperson for AHS, which runs the province’s ambulances, says the improvements have been made thanks in part to the so-called metro response plan, which aims to keep suburban ambulances in their home areas.

Cochrane sent ambulances to Calgary 1,007 times from 2019 to 2020, with that number jumping to 3,728 from 2021 to 2022.

Mike Derricott, the chief administrative officer with the Town of Cochrane, has seen this program in effect.

“[Ambulances] get caught up with the response cycle in the city, and there’s a real challenge in getting them back to the communities they’re stationed in,” he said. 

Derricott says a new protocol change by AHS should help get ambulances back to their home bases quicker, but he says the town is not sure how effective that change is yet.

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