The chair of the Cochrane EMS Emergency Citizens Action Group (CAG) says one vital piece is missing from the province's action plan to remedy the EMS crisis.
Brian Winter says the four emergency medical services' reforms announced yesterday by the province address two of the three items in CAG's three-point plan but ignores the important issue of eliminating the flexing of local ambulances.
"I'm hoping that they follow through on what they want to do in their four points," says Winter. "Two of them are what we've been preaching, but we still need them to look after one other thing--reflexing. Why should we flex out of Cochrane to protect another area? That's not acceptable to us."
He says in the past, EMS crews have been dispatched from as far away as Vauxhall, some 200 km away, for a Cochrane call.
"Vauxhall didn't get here because there was a unit that cleared from the hospital before they arrived, but can you imagine waiting for an ambulance from Vauxhall? Our units were out, probably doing a transfer, probably waiting at the hospital."
At a press conference yesterday, Health minister Jason Copping, Premier Danielle Smith, and Dr. John Cowell spoke of the most pressing needs in the province's healthcare system which include improving emergency medical service response times, decreasing emergency room waiting, and reducing wait times for surgeries.
Earlier this week, Dr. Cowell was named full-time administrator and will report directly to the premier and health minister, replacing an existing part-time Alberta Health Services board of directors.
Winter says the province has hit the nail on the head in focusing on fast-track ambulance transfers at emergency rooms and using more appropriate modes of transportation for non-emergency inter-facility transfers. Both of these are part of the local group's three-point plan to improve EMS response times.
He has a vision of how hospitals could be designed to better accommodate emergency room patients. He would have a room the size of a gym with 20 to 25 stations partitioned by curtains.
"Maybe one nurse could look after three. The EMS people would come in, give a report to the triage nurse and she would categorize the patients."
They would be appropriately assigned, and he suggests the EMS crew could be back on the road in 15 minutes.
Winter says Cochrane already has the ability for non-emergency transfers at its disposal.
"We have a private service that would be more than willing to take patients from Cochrane Urgent Care to hospitals in Calgary, Canmore, or wherever they have to go. It's pretty simple."
He says empowering EMS dispatch to step-down calls from 911 to Health Link based on a patient's need is only common sense.
"Well, that's something they could have been doing a long time. If someone calls and says I have a knee ache or I have a sprained neck give that to HealthLink."
Empowering paramedics to triage whether or not a patient needs to be transferred to an emergency room by ambulance is something that was done in the past by Calgary EMS, and when the first Cochrane EMS service was created almost 30 years ago.
"When we arrived and we had a patient we didn't think needed to be transported, we called medical control and consulted with the physician. The patient would sign a release form and we would be gone, so they should be doing this."
Winter says CAG will be meeting shortly to discuss the province's plan of attack and will be issuing a response.