The province has announced that it will be launching a new EMS-811 Shared Response team which, according to the government, is meant to help reduce ambulance response times in the province and ensure Albertans get the care they need when and where they need it.

Officials explained that when Albertans call 9-1-1, they are connected with an emergency communications officer, who reassures the caller that help is on the way while triaging patients similar to what happens in a hospital emergency department.

"When an emergency communications officer is confident that a patient’s situation is best handled with alternate levels of care, they will transfer the call directly to a dedicated team of experienced registered nurses at 8-1-1 without entering the caller into a queue. The registered nurse will continue to assess the patient and situation to identify appropriate care options," a provincial press release stated.

Callers are informed about this process and, if at any point it is determined an ambulance is required, an ambulance is dispatched.

Provincial data cites that non-urgent calls account for about 10 to 20 per cent of total 9-1-1 call volume, depending on the area, and with this new program, the province foresees that about 40,000 non-emergency responses could be avoided each year. 

Alberta's Minister of Health, Jason Copping said that this new approach will make the province's EMS system more responsive to the needs of Albertans.

“Empowering dispatchers to divert non-urgent calls to a dedicated team of experienced nurses within 811 when clinically appropriate is a win for Albertans. Everyone will have access to the appropriate level of care they need when they need it. 

In response to the province's announcement, David Shepherd, the Alberta NDP Critic for Health, said that the UCP is ignoring real solutions presented by frontline EMS workers to address the ambulance crisis.  

"The UCP keeps tinkering around the edges rather than hiring and retaining Alberta paramedics and frontline EMS workers. The requests from paramedics are clear—crews must get off-shift on time, all paramedics must be offered a permanent full-time contract, and harm-reduction services need to expand to cut down the huge number of drug poisoning calls," he said.

Previously, the NDP released data from a Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act that showed that nearly 10,000 EMS shifts were left unfilled from July 2022 to October 2022. The documents also showed that in April 2019, there were an average of 40 Red Alerts per month in Calgary; an EMS Red Alert is activated when there is no ambulance available to respond to a new emergency. By October 2022, Calgary was averaging more than 400 Red Alerts per month.

NDP leader Rachel Notley said that the numbers showed a tenfold increase in red alerts between 2019 and 2022.

"We need real action. There are specific steps that paramedics themselves have been calling for and the UCP have ignored for years.”

Earlier in January, an AHS provincial policy was put in place at all hospitals, which provides direction and guidelines to streamline the transfer of stable and less urgent patients from the care of paramedics to an emergency department and urgent care centre teams.

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