By Stu Salkeld, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

It’s always a concern in rural areas that local resources are going to be sucked into an urban black hole because, simply put, that’s where most of the people are. Kneehill County council heard at their regular meeting Feb. 22 that ambulances services, and the organizations behind them, are working to keep that from happening to this important medical service.

Council hosted two representatives of Alberta Health Services’ (AHS) central zone, Scott Holsworth, AHS director, and John Hein, AHS MFR, to discuss concerns about ambulance coverage in the municipality.

Holsworth did virtually all of the talking, and began by noting Kneehill County has three ambulances, including one in Linden; he showed some stats from Jan. to Dec., 2021 that stated those ambulances answered 253 calls in the county with Three Hills ambulance handling most of them.

Holsworth showed a graph illustrating Linden’s workload which included helping a lot of other communities, including Calgary, where Linden’s ambulance made 397 responses, followed by responses to Red Deer, Three Hills, Drumheller, Airdrie and Kneehill County. 

Holsworth pointed out several times “responses” doesn’t necessarily mean an emergency, the term also covers things like medical transfers from one facility to another which takes time and often involves moving someone from a rural area to a city.

He listed the current challenges facing ambulances in Kneehill County which included increased call volumes, prolonged hospital waits, fatigue management, suburban rural resources coming into cities and staffing challenges.

During discussion Holsworth mentioned several times the heavy volume facing the Red Deer Regional Hospital, especially.

According to the AHS representatives there is a 10 point plan in place to address healthcare and ambulance efficiency: hiring paramedics, pilot programs using vehicles like handi-vans instead of ambulances, fatigue management, managing calls that don’t necessarily need an ambulance, managing motor vehicle collisions that don’t result in injuries, closest/most appropriate dispatch management, ambulance divert management, Red Deer IFT corridor project, strategic provincial service plan and a Calgary operations centre.

Coun. Debbie Penner stated she liked what she heard about handi-van services, calling it “very good,” as she supports the idea of a bus taking people to Red Deer for non-emergency medical appointments, for example.

Reeve Jerry Wittstock pointed out Kneehill County began a medi-shuttle service in the early 2000’s which worked very well. “Too bad regulations didn’t allow it to continue,” said Wittstock.

Holsworth responded it seems the medi-shuttle was ahead of its time.

Penner asked if the Calgary operations centre would be for everyone’s use, and Holsworth answered it would be just for Calgary, but the effects of an operations centre would benefit any ambulance which surrounds Calgary.

Coun. Ken King stated he was happy to hear a lot of work is being done to address ambulance demand, but pointed out perception is sometimes reality and many Kneehill residents have the perception the county doesn’t have good ambulance coverage. King stated having ambulances back in their home communities would do much to address the misconception.

Coun. Laura Lee Machell-Cunningham pointed out a social media page that tracks where rural ambulances are, making it easy for someone to point out that all Kneehill County ambulances, for example, are sitting in Calgary, leaving residents scared there won’t be an ambulance if they need one.

Holsworth stated he’s aware of such social media pages and cautioned that people shouldn’t accept everything they see at face value.

This item is reprinted with permission from East Central Alberta Review, Kneehill County, Alberta. See article HERE.

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