By Kendall King
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
As the province’s health-care system plunges deeper into a state of public health emergency, with ICUs overflowing and many hospital procedures being cancelled, emergency medical services are also being pushed to the brink.
A spokesperson from the Health Sciences Association of Alberta has confirmed to the News Wednesday that EMS in the South zone – which covers everything south of Calgary including Medicine Hat and Lethbridge – are dealing with daily red alerts.
Red alerts occur when there are no ambulances available to respond to emergencies within the surrounding area.
When contacted for comment, Mike Parker, President of the HSAA and EMS paramedic, said that “today we’re at a point where there are more calls that are happening across the province and across the Southern region, than we have resources to cover; which means we go through moments in time where there are zero ambulances – there are no resources – to respond to those medical emergencies.”
When a red alert occurs, ambulances from a different community, or even a different zone, may be sent to the scene. This causes delays in response time, which can endanger the lives of those in need.
“When you dial 911 for an emergency, time is of the essence,” Parker stressed.
What’s happening now, is that these crews are scheduled for a 12-hour day, working 13 and 14 hours, and it starts chipping away at their ability to recover from it. They are going 12 hour stretches without finding time for a meal break or a bathroom break. They are being wrung out because they are working in a perpetual red alert scenario. They are exhausted.”
Parker attributes the current state of Alberta’s EMS to a steady increase in population and a rise in the number of individuals needing emergency medical services, but zero increase in the resources that are available.
When asked what can be done to amend the red alert issue, Parker encouraged community members to contact their Member of the Legislative Assembly and the new minister of health, Jason Copping.
Moreover, when EMS are drawn from other communities, those communities are left exposed. Red alerts are not only occurring in the South zone, but across the province. Calgary and Edmonton have both made headlines this past year for the high number of red alerts they have experienced. When the News contacted Alberta Health Services for data concerning the number of red alerts in the South zone, a spokesperson for provincial EMS programs responded that such data is only recorded for Calgary and Edmonton.
Parker highlighted that it’s not just patients’ lives that are at risk but also the lives of paramedics, who are burnt out from a lack of resources and inability to meet service demands.
“When you look at the life of a paramedic, it is already a high-intensity job. It is a lot of physical, mental and emotional demands on a regular day,” said Parker. “And on those regular days, your shift ends and you have a chance to turn over your keys to the next crew, and step back and reset yourself.