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Alberta ambulance shortage

Health and emergency personnel often talk about the importance of the golden hour. That is the hour immediately after a traumatic injury, considered the most critical for successful emergency treatment.

Health and emergency personnel often talk about the importance of the golden hour.

That is the hour immediately after a traumatic injury, considered the most critical for successful emergency treatment.

Nor is it only trauma’s that fall under this category. There are a number of health emergencies, from heart attacks, strokes, seizures and the like, that with the improvements in modern medicine, outcomes are favourable, assuming people are able to get to the hospital in a timely fashion.

The problem, in rural communities, given the distances involved, it is nearly impossible for emergency personnel, at the best of times to respond, get a patient ready to transport and then get them to the hospital within the first hour, And when you add in what many experts in the province believe is a critical shortage of ambulance and paramedics the issue is compounded that much more.

Health Sciences Association of Alberta (HSAA), the union representing Alberta’s paramedics, says the province’s ambulance system is stretched to its breaking point. Documents it obtained through a freedom of information request show demand is up almost 20 per cent since 2012-2013, but there’s only 3.4 per cent more paramedics. In the province it is estimated that there are just shy of 50 ambulances.

As a result, people are being subjected to long wait times for an ambulance.

Recently we have been in contact with a woman who knows the frustration first hand. Without giving too many of the details, the woman’s son experienced a health emergency while on the job at an industrial business outside one of the larger centres in the area.

Unfortunately, the nearest ambulance, stationed about 20 minutes from the business was unavailable so one had to be called out from another town more than 40 minutes away. Because of this delay, it was more than an hour before the patient was ready to be transported to the nearest health care facility. All totaled we estimate that it was more than two hours after the original incident until the gentleman in question received treatment from a medical facility.

We would like to say that this is an isolated incident and it is the first time we have heard such a story, but we can’t. The truth is that these incidents are becoming more and more prevalent. Adding to the problem is that often the reason why ambulances are not able to respond is because they are transporting people from one medical facility to another for non-critical care.

What’s the answer? We are not sure. Even if the government could wave its magic wand and find enough money and trained personnel to double the province’s ambulance feet, it many instances, it still wouldn’t be enough to solve the issue. However, the one thing we are sure about is that the province needs to put the issue higher on its priority list.