The Cochrane EMS Community Action Group (CAG) is holding a press conference tomorrow (Feb. 17) to provide a rebuke to the presentation received by Cochrane town council on Feb. 13 by Tony Pasich, associate executive director of AHS EMS.

Earlier this week, CAG chair Brian Winter said they found it to be a convoluted presentation that didn't zero in on issues of importance to Cochrane.

"Basically we have three issues," said Winter. "Talk about the three issues. There was an incident on the weekend where we had no ambulance service, and I was hoping that someone would talk about that. Council, talk about that. Talk about alternate transportation, talk about hallway wait times. Yeah, he went through the stats, but c'mon now, they're easy fixes."

Pasich's report largely spoke to response times, and call volumes, where Cochrane ambulances respond and the percentage of outside EMS crews responding to Cochrane calls.

He provided data that indicated there has been an improvement in the amount of time spent in the community by local ambulances, and less time in Calgary, but recognized further improvements are required.

That particularly includes response times.

Fifty per cent of the calls are made within 8:58 minutes and 90 per cent of all calls within 24:48 minutes. No data was provided for the other 10 per cent.

He said the target is to attempt to get closer to 2016 numbers of 7:18 minutes 50 per cent of the time and an average of 12:09 minutes 90 percent of the time.

"Our goal is to get that to 10 and 15 minutes to make it look more like 2016, and we have work to do to get to that response time. We're not to see big increases in Cochrane in volumes but we're seeing that big increase in Calgary putting pressure on our outlining communities and we need to fix the root cause of that."

He wants to keep more resources in the community to meet that goal.

"I'm confident that it's going to dramatically improve. Does that mean it's going to be 15 minutes or 14 minutes?  I can't answer that yet, but is it going to be well below 24? Absolutely."

He said EMS crews are starting to utilize the local urgent care centre more frequently. So far this year, they have transported 600 people there for treatment,  the highest number ever, and it's helping to divert ambulances from Calgary hospitals.

"Comparatively, we're not seeing a big increase in the number of trips that we're doing out of the urgent care centre, so we are seeing ourselves taking more patients to the urgent care centre without having to make that follow-up transfer to Calgary a little bit later."

Pasich identified fluctuating staff levels and embankment of staff as major issues. They are hiring 40 more full-time paramedics and changing the status of rovers to full-time from temporary.

"We have [rovers] in place, but they're temporary, and we're having a hard time keeping them filled because people want permanent positions, so we're moving those from temporary to full-time permanent."

He said they are being proactive in being better prepared for sick days and weekend coverage. 

"We can predict what we know that's going to happen, and we've got to get more proactive in our scheduling, in our staffing and have shift lengths that our staff want to work and scheduled that they want to work so we that can get in front that and not be so reactive trying to staff our ambulances in a reactive mode."

Responding to a question from Councillor Alex Reed about the feasibility of the town purchasing a fire/paramedical response vehicle, Pasich said they are willing to explore the option.

Councillor Reed saluted them for making some inroads and setting some loft goals but said the community wants results.

"That isn't good enough anymore, and we're beyond the kind of wishful thinking. I understand you're making some inroads, but it doesn't seem to be fast enough."

Contacted afterward, Reed, who first address the issue over six years ago, gave his reaction to the presentation.

"I liked a lot of what I heard in that the challenges are recognized and more importantly, EMS staff have been convinced to work with our local citizens' group, however, I remain concerned, as I have been for the last six years, that the provincial won’t accept responsibility for this failure, stop offloading the costs of addressing this onto the town and adequately fund it themselves."

He says EMS has recognized there hasn't been enough engagement, Pasich said he intends to host meetings in the spring and fall with local officials and citizens groups to provide updates and receive input.

He seemed confident that change is coming because of the attention being given to the issue.

"We've got some plans in place, we've got some budget dollars attached to those plans and we just need a little bit of time for those things to come to fruition."

"I recognize saying that we've six-seven years of things that aren't there but these are actions that are currently happening and underway and I just need to keep you up-to-date on where we're at and what that does to our response times and our community coverage.

"My goal is always to make sure you know exactly where I'm at, what I'm asking for, what our plans are, and if I'm not getting approvals and we're not getting action on that, then you're going to advocate on behalf of your constituents."

That includes meeting with CAG on Feb. 21 along with Murray Crawford, EMS AHS seniors operations director, and other EMS AHS officials. He says they will be listening to their solutions and see how they fit in with their plans to help improve the system.