The Alberta government is hoping to improve ambulance response times by having community shuttles and wheelchair-accessible taxis transport some patients.
Premier Danielle Smith announced a provincewide program Wednesday to free up some ambulances and paramedics so they can respond to emergency calls more quickly.
“Starting today, Alberta Health Services will use alternate modes of transportation for non-emergency transfers of patients instead of using ambulances where it’s clinically appropriate to do so,” she said during a news conference in Calgary.
“It’s important that these highly trained professionals can deal with actual emergencies and not shuttle patients from one place to another.”
The program has been tested in several municipalities — Calgary and several smaller communities such as Athabasca, Bonnyville and Valleyview — for the past six months.
Dr. John Cowell, who was appointed as the official administrator of AHS after the governing board was fired a month ago, said expanding the program across the province is a step forward to improve EMS response times.
“The new and expanded … program will take pressure off our highly skilled paramedics to be available for Albertans when they need medical help,” he said.
“Furthermore, it will give patients who are waiting for transfer more options to get home from the hospital or emergency department or follow up on their appointments more quickly.”
Cowell said the alternative transportation could include community shuttles, wheelchair-accessible taxis and modified vans that could properly secure stretchers.
The program, he added, has reduced ambulance transfers by about 15 per cent during its test phase in the communities and could help to free up space in hospitals.
Smith added that it could allow for up to 70 more ambulance trips each day.
“I am confident that this change will mean reduced wait times for EMS services,” she said.
Opposition NDP health critic David Shepherd said he doesn’t expect the announcement to help the ongoing problems in the health-care system, which also include staffing shortages, long surgical wait times and overcrowded emergency rooms.
“Danielle Smith has claimed it was essential to act decisively and quickly to address the ongoing crisis in our health-care system but, after 34 days of her direct control through her appointee, Dr. John Cowell, this is all she has to offer: the announcement of an idea that has been under discussion and indeed used in the community for months,” he said.
“The UCP’s response to the EMS crisis is grossly inadequate,” added Shepherd.