After a recent personal experience, a Town of Castor councillor is raising the alarm with Alberta Health Service’s (AHS) handling of the Emergency Medical Services portfolio.
Coun. Trudy Kilner had a discussion on AHS added to the Aug. 22 council meeting after experiencing a 45-minute wait for an ambulance.
While no specifics surrounding the call were given, Kilner feels that 45 minutes waiting for an ambulance is too long particularly when Castor is a base for one of East Central Ambulance’s three full-time units in the region.
According to Mayor Richard Elhard, an ambulance board member, a significant part of the issue is AHS dispatch pulling the Castor ambulance out of the service area to cover community’s like Hanna and Stettler when their ambulances have been unavailable.
Elhard says that Hanna has been particularly problematic as, despite having a pair of ambulances based in the community, AHS has been unable to staff the ambulances and calls on Castor to cover, leaving Coronation or Consort, if not otherwise busy, to respond.
“We need to do something as a community, as a council,” said Kilner. “First our helipad, now there’s not an ambulance in town when we need one. We’re going to lose someone.”
The heliport at Castor’s Our Lady of the Rosary Hospital was decomissioned in 2021 after an AHS prompted safety review was conducted which found significant deficincies with it.
Elhard added during the meeting that Alberta Health Minister Jason Copping has been contacted regarding the issue, as has the opposition health critic, with no substantial action taken by either.
“We’re rural, and we’re losing everything,” said Kilner. “I feel its wrong.”
According to Elhard, it had been previously discussed with AHS what would happen if the region were to lose the ambulance service in the community; AHS replied that the three units currently in service in the region would be replaced with one unit based in Coronation.
Elhard says that AHS was asked about what would happen to someone needing a patient in Monitor, a community east of Consort, to which he alleges the reply was “that’s a risk we’re willing to take.”
East Central Ambulance operations manager Lorne Dewart weighed in separately on council’s concerns.
Dewart, who is unfamiliar with the specifics of the call, agrees that the 45-minute wait for an ambulance is unacceptable but notes that he has no control in how ambulance resources are used.
“We have to go where we are deployed,” said Dewart.
Dewart said that unlike most contract ambulance service providers in the province, East Central Ambulance does have a provision in the contract which keeps one of the three ambulances in the region; however, if that ambulance is called out, or timed out, a resource would have to be brought in from outside the area which could account for the extended response.
In a motion by Kilner, council directed administration to contact the opposition health critic, again, and set up partner meeting to discuss the ambulance service and what can be done to protect the residents of Castor, and, by extension, the residents of Paintearth County.