The Cochrane EMS action committee (CAG) may have one last pillar to pursue should the Cochrane area be served by ambulance contractors for non-urgent transfers.

Today, Health minister Adriana LaGrange announced Guardian Ambulance Ltd. and Associated Ambulance and Services (Whitecourt) Ltd. will add resources to the EMS system for interfacility transfers of patients between hospitals or between hospitals and other settings that provide specialty care or services.

Guardian Ambulance Ltd. is expected to have 19 units available to serve a 50 km radius of Calgary later this spring. Associated will serve the greater Edmonton area.

For years, allowing contractors to provide non-urgent transfers has been recommended by CAG as one of its four pillars.

"The proof will be in the pudding," says local CAG president Brian Winter, "but it if it works out the way they say it's going to work out, and it takes the relief off our emergency crews, that's one pillar that has been met."

The other three are ending the flexing of local ambulances to other communities other than in exceptional circumstances, ending hospital wait times, and ensuring ensure ambulance crews return to base at the end of their shift 95 per cent of the time.

Not everyone agrees with the idea.

Mike Parker, president of the Health Sciences Association of Alberta (HSAA), says the move will put patient safety at risk, exacerbate the staffing crisis and divert money from patient care to corporate profits.

"It was only a few months ago that this government corrected its failed approach to for-profit health care after a complete failure to move community laboratory services to DynaLIFE," states Parker in a news release. "Today, they are setting Albertans up to face the same problems with EMS."

While the government claims this will help provide more resources to EMS, HSAA believes evidence indicates that it will only worsen the health-care staffing crisis.

Dr. Luanne Metz, Alberta NDP health critic, believes this isn't the time to gamble on another privatization scheme with EMS.

“Instead of bolstering our existing inter-facility transfer system by focusing on retaining and hiring new paramedics, Danielle Smith and the UCP are choosing to contract out those services to a private company, which has the potential to rob the public system of scarce human resources," states Metz. "We already know these private companies offer inferior jobs with fewer benefits and lower pay so turnover is high."

She says outcomes will be difficult to monitor, financial information will be hard to track, and we'll lose important public protection.

“Front line paramedics are telling us that contracting out this service will make an already failing system even worse and they’re worried about the record of some of the companies to whom contracts have been awarded," states Metz.

Guardian Ambulancephoto/Guardian Ambulance

Guardian Ambulance Ltd., part of Medavie Health Services West, has been operating in central Alberta for over 40 years. It has emergency medical services in an advanced life support and basic life support capacity, including hospital transfers, emergency medical response and emergency scene management.

Marty Scott, executive director, EMS provincial programs, says under the agreement reached they will report and be dispatched by Alberta Health Services.

"They'll use the protocols from Alberta Health Services, and they'll meet standards set forth by provincial legislation for ambulance services, so I want to provide some level of confidence that they'll meet a high standard for the level of work that they're doing."

Health minister LaGrange also announced an additional $25 million in funding for the EMS Vehicles Capital Program to replace EMS vehicles at the end of their life cycle. In addition, an independent review of the provincial air ambulance program and paramedic workforce study are being completed.