Calgary mayor wants province to reverse changes to emergency medical dispatch

CALGARY — The mayor of Calgary wants the Alberta government to reverse its decision to consolidate emergency medical dispatch, but the province says it will wait for the results of two investigations into a delayed ambulance response.

Both the city and Alberta Health Services ordered reviews Thursday into why it took an ambulance 30 minutes to get to an 86-year-old woman who was attacked by three dogs and later died.

The health agency said emergency medical services triaged a "dog bite" as non-life-threatening based on information received from the city's 911 call centre — until police arrived on scene and told EMS the woman's injuries were serious.

AHS said an ambulance was then dispatched and arrived in about nine minutes.

Mayor Jyoti Gondek said at a news conference late Thursday that the dispatch network is broken and urged the province to return to a local model in which police, fire and EMS were integrated.

"This moment calls for humility. It calls for honesty. It calls for the province to speak directly to their decision and the danger that that decision is causing," she said.

"People are suffering, lives are at risk and action must be taken."

Gondek said it's important for police, fire and EMS to be able to respond quickly to complex emergencies.

"Citizens have every right to expect elected officials to put their safety and well-being first and to demand on their behalf that when bad decisions lead to devastating outcomes repeatedly, that action be taken to reverse those decisions."

The cities of Calgary, Red Deer, Lethbridge and the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo have long raised concerns about the consolidation of emergency medical dispatch.

Health Minister Jason Copping said earlier Thursday that the changes to dispatch don't appear to be relevant in the specific case.

"The initial assessment that we've had … is that the consolidation of dispatch didn't impact the nature of this call," he said at an unrelated news conference in Calgary.

"I do understand that there are some concerns being raised about the four recent municipalities that we brought in when we consolidated dispatches. By way of background, all others for dispatch across the province already had been integrated within health."

Copping said the province has already committed to a review of the consolidation and he would also look at any concerns raised in the independent reviews of the dog attack on the woman.

"Once I get the full report from AHS, which is doing a deep dive into what happened here in Calgary, we'll look to their recommendations and make changes as necessary." 

A spokesman for Alberta Health said in an email Friday that Copping had nothing further to add, but noted that the dispatch changes happened 1 1/2 years ago.

"It seems like the issues are more likely specific to this call than with the system as a whole," said Steve Buick, press secretary for Alberta Health. "But let's wait for more detailed information from AHS and from the city, which operatesthe 911 call centre, and learn whatever we can from it."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 10, 2022.

Colette Derworiz, The Canadian Press