Centralized ambulance dispatch could be step back for city's operation
The province is drawing closer to its long-planned centralization of ambulance dispatch. The aim is to get rid of the patchwork of systems and create a streamlined dispatch service that levels the playing field across the province.
While the plan might be an improvement for some rural areas where service might have lagged behind other regions of the province, there's a danger that the move could actually bring down the service level in areas which already had a stellar system - such as Lethbridge.
Local emergency officials have expressed concern because the Health Quality Council report presented last week makes no recommendations for integrated fire and EMS systems such as those used in Lethbridge and several other communities in the province.
Under the present system, the Lethbridge Public Safety Communication Centre handles emergency dispatch for police, fire and ambulance in Lethbridge, as well as ambulance and fire dispatch for 25 southern Alberta communities.
A centralized ambulance dispatch would see emergency calls routed through Calgary, which could ultimately result in a longer response time in Lethbridge and area. Dispatchers in Calgary would only be able to send an ambulance, rather than a pumper truck with paramedics on board, as would be the case with the present system, in the event an ambulance was tied up with another call.
Lethbridge Fire Chief Brian Cornforth pointed out in a story in Saturday's Herald that the city has a long history of operating an integrated emergency system. He added there are many advantages to multiple response dispatch.
"This report is really unsympathetic towards fire and EMS integrated systems and we have some concerns," Cornforth said. "This is going to create a lot of challenge for us operationally and municipality-wise for us to move our operations forward . . ."
Lethbridge officials hope the problem can be solved by allowing this area's emergency system with Alberta Health's dispatch technology "so we could work seamlessly with them," said Chris Kearns, manager of the Lethbridge PSCC.
If Alberta Health doesn't accept that proposal, Lethbridge could actually wind up with a less efficient emergency response system.
The province's intent of raising the standard of emergency response in areas where it has lagged is a worthwhile goal. But is a centralized approach the best way to accomplish this for all areas of the province? Sometimes "one size fits all" doesn't provide the best fit, and it may not be the best fit for Lethbridge and area, which already enjoyed an emergency system that could serve as a model for others.
If raising the service level in other areas results in lowering the level in the Lethbridge area, that's a poor trade-off for southern Alberta residents. However, if integrating technologies can ensure that emergency response in Lethbridge and area is maintained at its present high standard, the move to centralization can perhaps be accomplished without robbing Peter to pay Paul.
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