The Cochrane EMS Emergency Community Action Group (CAG) says the EMS presentation made to Cochrane town council on Feb. 13 was deliberately confusing and found much of the presentation misleading.

In a Feb. 17 press conference, CAG chair Brian Winter and group consultant Don Sharpe, accompanied by several committee members, addressed multiple points they take issue with in the presentation by Tony Pasich, associate executive director of AHS EMS.

"Tony made it clear that Calgary is more important than Cochrane," stated Winter. "According to the presentation, we can only have an ambulance if Calgary has 13 of them available. While the CAG recognizes that hospital hallway waiting by paramedics will not be solved overnight, Tony uses this as an excuse for refusing to keep Cochrane ambulances in town for Cochrane citizens and visitors. The CAG finds this practice completely unacceptable."

To press their point further, they red-flagged a 12-hour shift in Cochrane on Feb. 11. According to their data, all three Cochrane-based ambulances were out of service, and ambulances from Sundre, Airdrie, and Didsbury responded to Cochrane calls.

They say they often receive reports of Cochrane ambulances being out of service. When they are in service, they typically do 55 to 60 per cent of the Cochrane calls.

CAG initially had a three-pillar plan to address the issue: end the flexing of local ambulances to other communities other than in exceptional circumstances, end hospital wait times, and use alternate transportation for non-emergency transfers.

Winter said they were pleased the provincial opened a request for proposals (RFP) last week for the alternate transport operators for nonemergency transfers. It's one of the measures announced by the province in December. 

It has since added a fourth pillar, to ensure ambulance crews return to base at the end of their shift 95 per cent of the time.

CAG says full-time staff is dropping to part-time positions because they are frustrated and exhausted.

"We hear from paramedics that the reason they drop to part-time or leave EMS altogether is because of a punitive leadership style and gross organizational dysfunction," said Winter.

Don SharpeRetired paramedic Don Sharpe expressed concern over what he called punitive actions being taken against paramedic by AHS EMS.

Don Sharpe, a 40-year paramedic who recently retired, called some of the disciplinary actions taken against paramedics and other first responders stepping forward to assist inappropriate.

"There are so many of these punitive actions being taken by EMS, very frustrating, and remember a lot of these paramedics are hurting. A lot of them are exhausted, and frustrated, and they're getting home too late, and that goes back to the four pillars."

"This is ruining the lives of people in this industry, and it has to stop."

Today, CAG is scheduled to meet with Murray Crawford, EMS AHS seniors operations director, and other senior management EMS AHS officials.

"Hopefully at that time, we can share our concerns, they can share how they can help us, and maybe at that point we can start developing a relationship," says Winter.

This evening, CAG members will be participating in a town hall with RJ Sigurdson, parliamentary secretary for EMS reforms, in Okotoks.

CAG news conference