Albertans requiring emergency medical services (EMS) can now be transported to alternative care locations instead of emergency departments so more ambulances can get back on the road faster.
Transport by ambulance to many healthcare facilities, such as hospices or community health centres that assist with urgent but non-life-threatening situations, were not previously allowed under government-sponsored benefit programs. This limited EMS ambulances to only transport patients to emergency departments instead of locations that made the most sense for the care required.
Removing this outdated requirement reduces bureaucratic red tape and allows EMS to transport patients by ambulance to alternate locations other than hospital emergency departments.
From 2017 to 2019, EMS ground ambulances responded to approximately 90,000 non-urgent events were directing patients to alternative care sites could have been considered. By the end of this year, 10 alternative healthcare facilities across Alberta will be included in the first phase of this change, with many more locations being added by 2023.
Phase 1 facilities already receiving patients being transported by ambulance:
- St. Joseph’s Home Carmel Hospice (Medicine Hat)
- St. Michael’s Health Centre (Lethbridge)
- Bashaw Care Centre (Bashaw)
- Sylvan Lake Community Health Centre (Sylvan Lake)
- La Crete Health Centre (La Crete)
- Rainbow Lake Health Centre (Rainbow Lake)
Additional Phase 1 facilities to be included by Dec. 31:
- Magrath Health Centre (Magrath)
- Piyami Health Centre (Picture Butte)
- East Calgary Health Centre (Calgary)
- Slave Lake Family Care Clinic (Slave Lake)
“We have seen far too many times ambulances lined up at emergency departments with non-critical patients waiting to receive care,” said Health Minister Tyler Shandro. “Often, these patients don’t need emergency services and would be better served at other healthcare facilities.”
He suggests that Albertans requiring EMS should be taken to the most appropriate healthcare facility – and ambulances should be back on the road as quickly as possible to reduce EMS wait times, improve the EMS system for Albertans, and reduce the strain on hospital emergency departments.
Wait times include the time from when EMS arrives at a hospital emergency department with a patient until that ambulance is available to respond to another call.
“Expanding the types of health facilities that EMS ambulances can transport patients to enables better patient care and reduces reliance on hospital emergency departments in situations where they are not needed,” said Darren Sandbeck, chief EMS paramedic and senior provincial at Alberta Health Services.
He believes this will help ease the strain on patients and emergency departments by allowing transport to alternate destinations for non-emergent or follow-up care.
Paramedics transporting to emergency departments must continue to treat the patient until care is transferred to emergency department staff.
The province made a commitment to integrated service level planning, better triaging of 911 callers and connecting them with non-EMS care when needed. They also called for more effective use of data and expanding performance metrics to drive improvements.
“Alberta’s government is committed to finding more effective and efficient ways of supporting Albertans in need of medical services,” said Michaela Glasgo, MLA for Brooks-Medicine Hat. “The inclusion of St. Joseph’s home and hospice as an ambulance destination will be welcomed by many in the Medicine Hat community.”
“We thank the Government of Alberta for this change. This expansion of service will support vulnerable and sometimes frail patients with transportation and direct access to the support and care they need within their community,” said Sheli Murphy, senior operating officer of Rural Services at Covenant Health.
“This change will support our patients and their families and provide an easier transition to palliative care.”
Since July 2020, the Alberta government has implemented new regulations to support more timely and appropriate access to emergency medical services by allowing stretcher vans and other vehicles to safely respond to non-urgent patient needs. This kept ambulances available for more critical situations.
The regulation updates also maximize the roles for nurse practitioners and paramedics, allowing nurse practitioners to now work as medical directors and provide real-time medical advice to paramedics during emergency medical events.
The province said EMS providers and operators were consulted and support these new regulations that provide greater flexibility to respond to Albertans.
AHS Emergency Medical Services responds to more than 550,000 events across the province annually.