Brian Winter, chair of the Cochrane EMS Emergency Community Action Group (CAG), says a meeting with top AHS EMS officials was encouraging.

A list of action items was presented to deputy minister Athana Mentzelpoulos, Interim chief paramedic Murray Crawford, and EMS provincial operations executive director Anne MacDonald during the 1 1/2 hour meeting here with six CAG members on Feb. 21.

"It was good," says Winter. "There are several action items that they need to come back with, and I've scheduled a meeting for the end of next month. They've agreed to meet with us monthly, so, yeah, I think we're talking to the right people."

Those action items include getting EMS teams out of the hospital quicker, one of the four pillars of CAG's answer to improving ambulance response times. The province has set a target of a 45-minute turnaround, something the local CAG believes is too long because of our distance to Calgary.

EMS officials told them there is an announcement coming sometime in March that they believe will improve the turnaround to 45 minutes or less.

A major concern was why local ambulance crews don't respond to 40 to 45 per cent of the calls here.

"We've asked them, what are our crews doing? Are the units unmanned? Are they waiting in the hospital? Are they conducting non-emergency transfers? Are they flexing? Or are they actually responding to emergency calls? So we've asked for a percentage breakdown of all those five items so we can determine why our crews aren't doing the calls we expect them to do."

CAG asked why the local urgent care centre doesn't have a private service available to complete non-emergency transfers. He says EMS completes 600 transfers from the urgent care centre annually, and not all of them are emergencies.

"If our emergency crews aren't going to all of those 600 calls, our crews would be more readily available. So we're saying if it's happening in Calgary, why isn't it happening in Cochrane."

Other action items were presented, all leading to the bottom line of returning to 2009 service standards of responding to 90 per cent of local medical emergencies.

"This is what we expect. AHS promised in 2009 that our service wouldn't suffer, in fact, it would improve. As we know, that hasn't happened."

That same evening, CAG members attended a townhall in Oktotoks with RJ Sigurdson, parliamentary secretary for EMS reforms.

Winter says he heard comments similar to those made by Mayor Jeff Genung on Feb. 13.

"People are scared," says Winter. "We had a gentleman stand up and say, my mother is an elderly lady and she's scared that if she calls EMS will they get a unit to her?  We had EMS staff there that were saying the system is not working, you need to change the system."

Winter says Sigurdson is attempting to establish a provincial advisory board with a ministerial order from the Alberta Health minister that would include EMS representation from across the province.

Should it be established, Winter says CAG has indicated they would like to have a member on that board.