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Alberta goes to court in fight with municipality over medical emergency dispatch

Last Updated Feb 12, 2021 at 7:52 am MDT

A paramedic loads a patient into the back of an ambulance in downtown Calgary on Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2021. (PHOTO: Tom Ross - 660 NEWS)

EDMONTON – The Alberta government is going to court to stop a northern municipality from unilaterally withdrawing from the provincial medical emergency dispatch system.

Alberta Health Services and Alberta Health have filed a joint application with Court of Queen’s Bench to get an injunction to stop the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo from not transferring 911 calls to AHS EMS Dispatch.

The municipality includes the oilsands hub city of Fort McMurray.

WATCH: Wood Buffalo opts out of EMS dispatch

The move comes a day after the municipality voted to stop transferring emergency medical calls to provincial dispatch centres, saying the recent changeover has led to logistical delays and confusion, putting patient safety at risk.

AHS, however, says there is no such evidence of confusion and that by withdrawing from the provincial system it is Wood Buffalo that is risking patient safety.

Alberta has been consolidating emergency medical calls for more than a decade, and recently brought in Red Deer, Calgary, Lethbridge and Wood Buffalo.

The mayors of all four municipalities have openly opposed the move since it was introduced last year.

The mayors have raised concerns that moving EMS dispatch out of the local call centres would reduce the quality of service, such as with dispatchers not being familiar with addresses and callers waiting as they have to be transferred back to other dispatchers.

Despite repeated calls to revisit the consolidation, the province moved ahead with the plan saying it was in the best interest of Albertans and will save millions of dollars per year.

Last month, the director of Calgary 911 Richard Hines, spoke to City Council to discuss technical issues that arose the day the consolidation happened.

He noted the call system was down that day, resulting in a 10-minute delay after a caller reported a medical emergency.

RELATED: Major technical issue reported as EMS consolidation began

Health Minister Tyler Shandro has said centralizing EMS dispatching is the “best practice” instead of the previous model that had all local dispatchers working in the same room.

“While I respect your dedication to your local emergency services, the claim that safety and efficiency require all dispatchers to be in the same room is out of date; it ignores how ambulance services have evolved across Canada and in other countries,” Shandro said in a letter to the mayors.