In response to growing demand for EMS services across Alberta, the government is launching a provincial emergency medical services advisory committee to provide immediate and long-term recommendations that will inform a new provincial EMS service plan. Meanwhile, Alberta Health Services (AHS) is immediately rolling out a 10-point plan to quickly add capacity to EMS.

Co-chaired by R.J. Sigurdson, MLA for Highwood, and Tracy Allard, MLA for Grande Prairie, the committee will provide recommendations to the Health Minister by May. Strategies that can be tested or more broadly implemented in the short term will be actioned in the meantime.

“Alberta’s government has been supportive of EMS throughout the pandemic. As we approach the peak of Omicron cases, we know the EMS system is seeing significant strain, which impacts service. We recognize this is a challenge and are taking immediate steps to improve emergency care access while we explore longer-term solutions.”

Jason Copping, Minister of Health

“Responding to medical emergencies is a critical need for all Albertans. I am honoured to have this opportunity to make a difference and improve the system for the long term. I look forward to working as co-chair on this committee and taking swift action on this matter.”

Tracy Allard, co-chair, Provincial EMS Advisory Committee, and MLA for Grande Prairie

“Thank you to the remarkable group of leaders who have agreed to serve on the advisory committee. They genuinely care about EMS staff and every Albertan and the communities they serve. Albertans expect that when they call 911 in their time of greatest need, EMS will always answer. The committee’s goal will be focused around ensuring and improving service to Albertans while supporting the most critical piece of that equation: our EMS staff across all of Alberta. I look forward to rolling up my sleeves and getting to work.”

R.J. Sigurdson, co-chair, Provincial EMS Advisory Committee, and MLA for Highwood

“A strong, stable and reliable EMS system is vital to our health-care system, that’s why we’ve made this work a priority for Alberta Health Services. These actions will allow us to better support our EMS staff and front-line paramedics, and in turn this will ensure our patients receive the best care possible. We are extremely grateful to our entire EMS team for their service to Albertans.”

Dr. Verna Yiu, president and CEO, Alberta Health Services

“The College of Paramedics is pleased to be joining the Alberta EMS advisory committee and participate in the comprehensive review of EMS services in Alberta. Members and resources have been at critical capacity, and the opportunity to engage with all stakeholders to provide insights, advice and strategies is an important step in ensuring the highest quality of care for Albertans now and moving forward.”

Tim A. Ford, registrar, Alberta College of Paramedics

“The Alberta Paramedic Association is thankful that Health Minister Copping and the Government of Alberta have recognized the urgent need to establish this EMS advisory committee. Through this committee, we’re committed to working together to develop innovative solutions to fix the delivery of EMS, address challenges facing our paramedics and ensure a world-class EMS system for all Albertans, now and into the future.”

Dusty Myshrall, president, Alberta Paramedics Association

“Alberta Municipalities is pleased that the provincial government has responded to our call to action to review and address the EMS-related issues that currently exist. We look forward to working closely with the provincial government to ensure Albertans receive the agile, responsive and effective emergency medical services they need, now and for decades to come.”

Cathy Heron, president, Alberta Urban Municipalities Association

“Rural Alberta covers large geographic areas, which requires emergency medical services to be provided in a manner that meets unique rural needs. The formation of this committee is promising, enabling a collaborative approach needed to address the urgent need for all areas of the province to have access to timely emergency services to protect the health of all Albertans, regardless of where they reside.”

Paul McLaughlin, president, Rural Municipalities of Alberta

“Emergency medical services are a critical component to the health-care system in Alberta. As such, it is imperative that EMS resources and those that care for Albertans are both prepared and available to respond in our time of need. Essential to a highly functioning EMS system are the appropriate deployment of resources when and where Albertans need it, utilizing the best available intelligence, technology and evidence-based care possible. I am excited to contribute to the success of the Alberta Provincial EMS Advisory Committee and I look forward to moving the system forward in a positive way for all Albertans.”

Trevor Maslyk, advance care paramedic and associate dean, School of Health and Life Sciences, Northern Alberta Institute of Technology

“Bringing a local perspective to the provincial table will help Red Deer and central Alberta continue to shape the delivery of our emergency services. Our goal is to ensure all Red Deerians and Albertans are protected in an emergency. We appreciate the opportunity to work directly with our municipal and provincial counterparts to determine where change is needed, and make a plan for Alberta-wide outcomes.”

Ken McMullen, chief of emergency services, City of Red Deer

“I am proud to be a member of this advisory committee as we ensure a safe and high-quality EMS service across Alberta. Together, we must recognize and respect our clients and stakeholders’ unique needs that will inspire us to be the best we can be.”

Joe Gray, operations manager, Cold Lake Ambulance Society

“We appreciate the opportunity for front-line firefighters, firefighter-paramedics and dispatchers to be included in the Alberta Provincial EMS Advisory Committee. There is much work to be done to address the issues in EMS provincewide. We are optimistic that this committee will identify opportunities and solutions to improve pre-hospital care and emergency response. We need to ensure every Alberta community has the timely emergency medical response they need. It’s important a future system supports all first responders to have healthy careers and the proper resources to do their work.”

Matt Osborne, president, Alberta Fire Fighters Association

“Medavie Health Services (MHS) West is proud to partner with AHS and EMS providers across Alberta to deliver the highest quality care to our communities. At MHS West, our mission is to improve the well-being of Canadians and we look forward to collaborating with AEPAC to help ensure a stronger, healthier future for Albertans today and well into the future.

Terry Boettcher, general manager, Northeast Alberta, Medavie Health Services West

“Thank you for the opportunity to serve on this committee and represent patient and family voices. My family has been deeply impacted by experiences with EMS services and I am honoured to be a part of a team that can consider timely and sustainable solutions for both EMS personnel and Albertans. It is time for change and I’m pleased government recognizes we must work on this together.”

Michelle Hill, member, Patient and Family Advisory committee, Health Quality Council of Alberta

Alberta EMS provincial advisory committee

The committee will include contracted ambulance operators, unions representing paramedics, municipal representatives and Indigenous community representatives. Members will collaborate, identify concerns, provide advice and inform a new provincial EMS service plan.

Alberta Health Services’ 10-point plan

AHS is working with EMS staff and community and service delivery partners to ensure the most critical patients receive immediate care while maximizing existing EMS system capacity.

Five actions are already underway:

  • Hiring more paramedics.
  • Launching pilot projects to manage non-emergency inter-facility transfers.
  • Initiating an ‘hours of work’ project to help ease staff fatigue.
  • Transferring low priority calls to other agencies in consultation with EMS physicians.
  • Stopping the automatic dispatch of ambulances to motor vehicle collisions that don’t have injuries.

Five additional actions are to come:

  • Creating a new integrated operations centre in Calgary, bringing paramedic leads and hospital staff together to improve integration, movement of resources and flow of patients.
  • Evaluation by an emergency communications officer to determine if an ambulance from out of area, though it may be closest to a 911 call, is most appropriate to respond.
  • Implementing a pilot project in Red Deer that will manage most patient transfers between facilities with dedicated transfer units, freeing up ambulances to handle emergency calls.
  • Allowing ambulances to be pre-empted from assignments, instead of being automatically dispatched when a 911 call is received, to ensure more ambulances are available for critical patients.
  • Developing a strategic provincial service plan for EMS delivery in the province.

Additionally, the province will issue a request for proposals to conduct a third party review of Alberta’s provincewide EMS dispatch system in February. The objective review by external health system experts will provide further opportunities to address ongoing pressures, improve effectiveness and efficiency through best practices, and provide the best outcomes for Albertans who call 911 during a medical event.

Quick facts

  • Over the last several months, EMS has received a 30 per cent increase in 911 calls.
  • Similar EMS call volumes and challenges are happening across Canada and globally.
  • AHS has increased the number of paramedics by more than 200 over the last two years, a nine per cent increase.
  • The provincial EMS budget is $15 million higher than it was in 2019.
  • In addition to increased 911 calls, EMS pressures include:
    • EMS staffing fatigue and illness
    • hospital offload delays
    • more requests for patient transfers
    • delays in receiving new ambulances and specialized vehicle parts caused by global supply issues