Alberta Health Services anticipates diverting about 40,000 non-emergency 911 medical calls a year to 811 Health Link nurses with the creation of an EMS-811 Shared Response team.
EMS emergency communications officers have already started working with a team at 811 to transfer non-urgent calls directly to 811 nurses, while urgent calls will continue to receive an ambulance response.
“Empowering dispatchers to divert non-urgent calls to a dedicated team of experienced nurses within 811 when clinically appropriate is a win for Albertans. Everyone will have access to the appropriate level of care they need when they need it,” said Health Minister Jason Copping during a press conference announcing the new initiative to make more ambulances available to respond to emergencies.
The province says non-urgent calls account for about 10 to 20 per cent of total 911 call volume, depending on the area.
Red Deer EMS acting chief Matt White said the department is supportive of any effort that frees up ambulance resources and is optimistic the collaboration between 911 and 811 will have a positive effect.
“It’s brand new. They’ve just rolled it out and so we’ll be watching over the next month or two to try and help assess the impact,” White said.
He added the program won’t change how things are done at Red Deer’s 911 emergency communications centre. When someone calls 911 in Red Deer, dispatchers determine if police, fire or ambulance is needed. If it’s an ambulance call, it gets sent to Alberta Health Services southern communication centre in Calgary where those dispatchers will determine if its appropriate to transfer the call to an 811 nurse.
NDP health critic David Shepherd said the UCP is once again ignoring solutions presented from frontline EMS workers to address the ambulance crisis.
“The UCP keeps tinkering around the edges rather than hiring and retaining Alberta paramedics and frontline EMS workers,” Shepherd said in a statement.
“The requests from paramedics are clear — crews must get off-shift on time, all paramedics must be offered a permanent full-time contract, and harm-reduction services need to expand to cut down the huge number of drug poisoning calls.”
He said thousands of EMS shifts are going unfilled every month in Alberta. Wednesday, the NDP released data obtained through FOIP that shows in Calgary alone there are now hundreds of Red Alerts when no ambulance is available each and every month.