Firsthand accounts of lengthy EMS response times in Alberta continue to circulate on social media.
Two local cases, in particular, drew attention in the last few weeks.
One account was posted on July 24 to the Facebook group “Okotoks EMS Crisis - Citizen Action Group.”
The post recounts an emergency call for an unconscious person where firefighters were first to the scene, with EMS arriving 48 minutes later, having come from Didsbury.
A similar story was posted to Reddit on July 30, recalling an emergency at a local clinic.
“We're in Okotoks. They are a COCHRANE AMBULANCE. They were on the far edge of NW Calgary when they got the call,” the post reads. “With full lights and sirens it took 53 minutes from our call to 911 to them arriving at our clinic.”
Cases such as these come about due to “code reds,” where a lack of available ambulances in Calgary means responders from neighbouring towns like Okotoks and Airdrie are called to respond to emergencies.
This often leads to a lack of responders in those communities, with the first available ambulance often having to travel long distances to emergencies.
A local EMS worker, who wished not to be identified, these code reds happen pretty frequently, and can last for a while.
“What AHS says is that code reds only last for a few minutes, but not in my experience. They can last for hours at a time, and we end up in the city for hours at a time, so when that happens, it takes a long time for, for instance, Cochrane to get to Okotoks to respond to a call.”
In the case of Okotoks, local firefighters are Primary Care Paramedic (PCP) trained, meaning they’re able to respond to medical emergencies, but they can’t transport patients to hospitals.
This could potentially lead to short staffing in case of a local fire emergency.
Both of the aforementioned accounts mention firefighters arriving at the scene before EMS.
The anynymous first responder explains the issue predates COVID.
“They blame this on the pandemic, but we were already in trouble before the pandemic. The pandemic certainly added to it, but between the opioid crisis, the pandemic, and elderly patients; there’s a lot of old people that need medical attention, because of all of that, there’s a huge amount of needing resources. That should’ve been recognized 10 years ago.”
They expressed a feeling of helplessness, that pleas for change from frontline workers are falling on deaf ears.
“I truly believe that we are top-heavy. Extremely top-heavy. We have very little face time with our managers, so frontline staff is left out of the loop a little bit. I think they need to clean house from the top. In truth, if this was an oil company, the top guy would’ve been fired a long time ago.”