Healthcare Action Plan: EMS response times

Press Release

Dec 21, 2022

Alberta’s government is introducing a new program to free up ambulances and paramedics to respond to more emergency calls.

As part of the Healthcare Action Plan, Alberta’s government is working with Alberta Health Services (AHS) to improve emergency medical services (EMS) response times and open up acute care beds more quickly for Albertans waiting in the emergency department.

Instead of using highly trained paramedics for non-medical patient transfers like transporting patients home, AHS will arrange for alternative transportation. This program for non-clinical transports is for patients who do not require medical support during transport and are able to care for themselves on the way, including patients who are cleared to be transferred or discharged from a facility or acute care.

“Paramedics are highly skilled health professionals who are trained to respond in times of crisis. We want to ensure their skills are being used in the best way possible while also ensuring Albertans are not left waiting after a call to 911. Our Healthcare Action Plan will make sure Albertans get the care they need where and when they need it. Albertans have been calling for change and rightfully demanding a health system that works for them. By rolling out this program across the province, we will free up more ambulances and acute care beds to deliver urgent care faster.”

Danielle Smith, Premier

“Our goal is to get more ambulances on the road and available for emergency calls and fewer ambulances and paramedics needlessly tied up when medical care is not needed. Help is on the way for Albertans calling 911 and waiting in emergency rooms. We are committed to improving urgent care and fixing the health-care system.”

Jason Copping, Minister of Health

AHS expects that 15 per cent of transports will be diverted from emergency medical services, which means that paramedics could respond to about 70 more transports per day once this program is implemented across the province.

“I want to thank all staff and physicians who are helping to get this new EMS program implemented and executed, and also the teams focused on immediate actions across all priority areas.”

Mauro Chies, interim president and CEO, Alberta Health Services

“The Healthcare Action Plan and our EMS priorities are informed by listening to paramedics and EMS partners. We will continue working together to take more actions in the coming weeks and months to ease the pressures on our highly qualified front-line workers.”

RJ Sigurdson, parliamentary secretary for EMS reforms

The new program is one of several immediate actions underway at AHS designed to better serve Albertans. AHS has an aggressive plan to improve four priority areas and is taking several concrete steps to reduce pressures and improve system performance.

Initiatives include:

  • Improving EMS response times by:
    • Supporting the use of alternate transport options.
    • Adding triage physicians in emergency department waiting rooms to support ambulance offload.
    • Performing secondary triage – sending 911 calls to 811 where appropriate.
    • Allowing paramedics to assess and treat without transport to hospital.
    • Implementing an EMS Provincial Service Plan.
  • Decreasing emergency department wait times by:
    • Improving hospital flow to improve use of emergency department beds.
    • Ensuring Albertans are aware of alternate options to visiting an emergency department.
    • Expanding hours for non-urgent clinics at children’s hospitals.
    • Increasing dedicated Allied Health supports in the emergency department to support timely assessment and discharge of elderly and frail patient populations.
    • Partnering with community organizations to facilitate safe discharge from emergency departments for individuals experiencing homelessness.
  • Reducing wait times for surgeries by:
    • Improving management of wait-lists.
    • Utilizing surgical facilities outside of Edmonton and Calgary hospitals.
  • Improving overall patient flow and capacity at AHS sites by:
    • Improving the community-based options for homeless and vulnerable populations requiring medical respite and convalescent care.
    • Increasing Allied Health supports to hospital care teams to support improved patient flow on hospital wards.
    • Adding additional hours of home care to support patients at home who are waiting for continuing care placement or to keep patients in their homes as long as they would like to and can safely be there.
    • Ensuring consistent seven day per week admission into continuing care.

“We have been laser-focused on four priorities since I took on the official administrator role about a month ago. Improving EMS response times is one of those four priority areas, along with improving emergency department wait-times, improving overall patient flow and capacity at our sites, and reducing surgical wait-times. We need to make fast, effective improvements so that Albertans get the timely and effective care and support that they deserve. I’m pleased that we are seeing results.”

Dr. John Cowell, official administrator, Alberta Health Services

Quick facts

  • The program will be rapidly implemented across the province. Further consultation with patients, families, Indigenous partners and continuing care partners will take place to ensure local solutions are available and put in place quickly.
  • Health-care staff and physicians will use provincial guidelines and clinical judgment to determine if a patient is able to use the alternative transportation options.
  • Community partners and operators interested in learning about how to join the preferred vendor lists can contact AHS at cpsm.customersupport@albertahealthservices.ca or 1-877-595-0007.
  • Alternative transportation includes community shuttles, wheelchair-accessible taxis and other locally available options. Each zone will have a list of providers that would be available to all hospitals. AHS will cover the cost of transportation for patients who are financially unable to do so.
  • This program for non-clinical transports has been successfully piloted in Calgary, Bonnyville, Valleyview, Athabasca and St. Paul for six months. Patients will need to meet the criteria set by AHS to be considered for the program. Health-care professionals will consult with the patient or their designated family to discuss options to determine the most appropriate transport. EMS will still transport patients who require medical care.
  • As part of the Healthcare Action Plan, the AHS administrator is focusing on four immediate goals, including improving EMS response times and decreasing emergency room wait times.
  • The AHS administrator has been tasked with four priority actions to improve emergency medical services coverage. That includes finding ways to use more appropriate modes of transportation when the use of ambulances and highly trained paramedics is not needed.

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