Brian Winter, chair of the Cochrane EMS Emergency Crisis Citizens Action Group (CAG), says they have requested a seat on the newly-announced provincewide Emergency Medical Services (EMS) advisory committee.

Alberta Health minister Adriana LaGrange has announced the establishment of a standing committee among other measures aimed at enhancing the troubled provincewide EMS system.

When Winter got wind that a committee was being formed, he wrote a letter to the minister on Nov. 20 to introduce her to the Cochrane CAG, what they stand for, and what they've done.

"When the announcement came out yesterday (Nov. 28), I wrote her a second letter basically saying CAG is very interested in having a member sit on the EMS advisory committee, so please get back to us. So I'm hoping she'll take that and hopefully one of our members will be able to sit on that EMS committee to try to redo EMS within the province."

The standing committee will have a three-year term and will report to the Ministry of Health. It will inform the ministry's ongoing evaluation of the EMS system and provide recommendations for improvement across workforce, system performance, and standards.

It's expected to provide advice on all aspects of the system, including air ambulance, dispatch, ground ambulance, and medical first response. Paramedics and representatives from EMS partner organizations, municipalities, and Indigenous communities will be invited to sit on the committee.

The advisory body's formation was one of over 50 recommendations from an extensive final report from the Alberta Emergency Medical Services Provincial Advisory Committee released in September 2022.

The president of the union representing paramedics isn't convinced the measures announced will strengthen EMS. HSAA president Mike Parker says clearly the solution is to address staffing shortages, and nothing in the government announcement indicates this will occur.

“There is no need for another committee," says Parker. "Frontline EMS professionals have already provided solutions to the troubles we are facing through our participation in the Alberta Emergency Medical Services Provincial Advisory Committee. The government should be acting on the solutions it was provided after a year of consultation."

He says the government needs to improve wages and working conditions for emergency communications officers, paramedics, and all health care professionals.

LaGrange says the new approach to EMS is part of a remake of the provincial health system. A new acute care organization will provide oversight over emergency health services including EMS, the delivery of hospital care, and urgent care centres, in addition to cancer care, clinical operations, and surgeries. It will work with EMS service providers to reduce response times and enhance access to care in rural and remote areas.

LaGrange says Alberta Health will oversee the continued implementation of the recommendations of the Alberta Emergency Medical Services Provincial Advisory Committee and the EMS dispatch review to improve EMS coverage across the province and support EMS staff.

Details of a provincial EMS performance framework and a new regional EMS dispatch centre in the Municipality of Wood Buffalo were also announced.

The 2023 Alberta budget included $211 million in new EMS funding over three years to hire more staff, purchase more ambulances, EMS vehicles and related equipment, and continue to implement recommendations of the provincial advisory committee and EMS dispatch review. 

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