Strengthening emergency medical services

Press Release

Nov 28, 2023

Alberta’s government is taking action to address Emergency Medical Services (EMS) concerns provincewide with a new advisory committee, performance framework and fourth dispatch centre.

As part of the government’s work to refocus Alberta’s health care system, Alberta’s government is introducing initiatives aimed at ensuring EMS operates as efficiently and effectively as possible. These initiatives will ensure every Albertan has access to high-quality health care when and where they need it.

Alberta has a centralized dispatch model – when Albertans call 911 for a medical emergency, an EMS communications officer, based at a central dispatch centre, sends the closest available ambulance. In response to municipalities’ concerns, the province commissioned an independent EMS review. It concluded that Alberta’s central dispatch model follows world-leading practices and design used in high-performing Canadian and global jurisdictions. The review outlined many opportunities for improvement, including recommendations to work more closely with municipalities and EMS partners, and Alberta’s government accepted all the recommendations.

New Alberta EMS standing committee

Paramedics and EMS partners on the ground have a direct line of sight and understand the unique needs of their communities. This is why the province is inviting them to join a new committee to share their input. The standing committee will have a three-year term and will report to the Ministry of Health.

The standing committee will inform the ministry’s ongoing evaluation of the EMS system and provide recommendations for improvement across workforce, system performance and standards. The committee will provide advice on all aspects of the system, including air ambulance, dispatch, ground ambulance and medical first response. Paramedics and representatives from EMS partner organizations, municipalities and Indigenous communities will be invited to sit on the committee.

“Every minute counts when an Albertan experiences a medical emergency. Our government is committed to working with our EMS partners to strengthen emergency services across the province. We invite them to participate in this standing committee as we work to improve response times and as we continue to implement the recommendations from both the Alberta EMS Provincial Advisory Committee and EMS dispatch review.”

Adriana LaGrange, Minister of Health

Paramedics interested in sharing their ideas and solutions can apply; the Alberta College of Paramedics will send the invitation in the coming days. Having a permanent mechanism and direct feedback from patients, paramedics and communities was a key recommendation from the Alberta EMS Provincial Advisory Committee.

“The Alberta College of Paramedics is pleased to be joining the new Alberta EMS standing committee. We look forward to working collaboratively with the government to ensure that paramedics can continue to deliver safe and effective care to Albertans.”

Tim A. Ford, registrar, Alberta College of Paramedics

Provincial EMS performance framework

As part of the work to refocus the health care system to drive for better health outcomes for Albertans, the province will set clear provincial performance indicators, operational standards and mandatory reporting for EMS. These standards will apply to all service providers including Alberta Health Services (AHS). The goal is to make sure Alberta has a high-performing EMS system that is reliable and accountable. Alberta Health will work closely with the new standing committee and the Health Quality Council of Alberta to ensure the standards follow international best practices while considering the Alberta context and local needs.

Under the refocused provincial health system, a new acute care organization will provide oversight over emergency health services including EMS, the delivery of hospital care and urgent care centres, in addition to cancer care, clinical operations and surgeries. The new organization will work with EMS service providers to reduce response times and enhance access to care in rural and remote areas.

In the meantime, Alberta Health will oversee the continued implementation of the recommendations of the Alberta Emergency Medical Services Provincial Advisory Committee and the EMS dispatch review to improve EMS coverage across the province and support EMS staff.

“We continue to see this government’s dedication to improving the provision of EMS by remaining dedicated to the Alberta Emergency Medical Services Provincial Advisory Committee’s recommendations, returning EMS dispatch to communities and striving for high performance standards. EMS is faltering all across our country and Alberta will lead the way in its reform.”

Elliott Davis, secretary and treasurer, Alberta Professional Fire Fighters & Paramedics Association

New EMS dispatch centre – Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo

As part of the efforts to improve EMS coverage in rural communities, a new dispatch centre will be based in the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo. AHS will contract the municipality to staff and run the emergency call centre, using AHS technology to dispatch ambulances within the region, so it will be fully integrated with the EMS dispatch system and can provide surge support for the other dispatch centres.

A new dispatch centre will ease the pressure on the three current centres in Calgary, Edmonton and Peace River. It will be fully integrated with the EMS dispatch system and can provide surge support for the other centres. The new dispatch centre responds to the unique geography and needs of northern Alberta and will build on the strength of the provincial dispatch system. The estimated cost is an initial $2 million. The new dispatch centre is expected to open by the end of 2024.

“This represents an important first step in EMS dispatch being restored to the municipality, and to the internationally recognized, local expertise, knowledge and experience of our own regional emergency services. This is great news for everyone who calls this place home. We thank Premier Danielle Smith and Minister Adriana LaGrange for their leadership in hearing our position and for taking action alongside local representatives, Minister Brian Jean, MLA Tany Yao, and others. This region is unique in many ways, and we have a provincial government that understands that when it comes to EMS dispatch.”

Sandy Bowman, mayor, Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo

“We look forward to working with AHS to establish a collaborative and long-term agreement for an EMS dispatch centre in Fort McMurray Wood Buffalo. This new dispatch centre paves the way for the delivery of a locally coordinated emergency response tailored to the unique needs of the communities we proudly serve while also supporting other communities across Alberta.”

Jody Butz, regional fire chief and director of emergency management, Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo

“I’m glad to see that our government is making this common-sense decision to return dispatch to RMWB Emergency Services, acknowledging the region’s distinct needs. Thank you to Minister LaGrange for her advocacy and for acting swiftly to work with my constituents as we continue the important work of reducing EMS response times across the province.”

Tany Yao, MLA for Fort McMurray-Wood Buffalo

“The new EMS dispatch centre will be a critical hub for the provision of prehospital care in my region – serving outlying residents, remote communities and industrial sites. The provision of quality emergency services is essential to our quality of life.”

Brian Jean, MLA for Fort McMurray-Conklin

Quick facts

  • Budget 2023 provides $211 million in new EMS funding over three years, which has been allocated for:
    • hiring more staff
    • putting more ambulances on the road
    • implementing recommendations made by the Alberta EMS Provincial Advisory Committee and the EMS dispatch review
    • new EMS vehicles and related equipment

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