For those on the frontline of healthcare, those working in the province’s Emergency Medical Services (EMS) system, it has been a long couple of years.
Paramedic Services Week, which runs from May 22 to 28, is a time to celebrate those frontline workers.
In Castor, along with the rest of Paintearth County and parts of Special Areas No. 4, EMS service is suppled by the crews of East Central Ambulance Association, a Basic Life Support (BLS) ambulance service headquartered in the County of Paintearth administrative offices.
The service runs three ambulances under contract to Alberta Health Services (AHS) from bases in Castor, Coronation and Consort.
Already escalating prior to the pandemic, call volumes between 2011 and 2021 have increase 97 per cent for emergency calls, and 340 per cent for inter-facility transfers.
In 2021, the service responded to 488 emergency calls and 801 inter-facility transfers.
The problem is, due to contracts with AHS, East Central Amulance is still being paid at 2010 inter-facility transfer numbers, around 200 per year, nor do the contracts account for “flexing,” when an ambulance is moved to cover another community.
“Unless we’re doing (an emergency) call, we’re not generating an income,” said Lorne Dewart, operations manager for East Central Ambulance.
Continuing to complicate matters is the COVID-19 pandemic, which has resulted in extended call times due to extra cleaning practises.
“Over the last two years, it’s made everything we’ve done more difficult. At the start, the policies were changing multiple times a day.”
As far as the contract goes, Dewart did not wish to comment extensively on the subject; however, he did indicate that the service was currently negotiating a two-year contract extension with AHS and things did look optimistic as far as some increased funding.
East Central Ambulance has 14 full-time staff members, 12 full-time primary care paramedics who work on ambulance, an operations manager, an administrative assistant, plus a variety of casuals who fill in as needed.
According to Dewart, despite the service being designated a Basic Life Support service, thanks to a change in scope of skills authorized by the Alberta College of Paramedics the members continue to gain more advanced skills as training allows.
Over the next year, skills coming to the providers include being able to monitor PICC lines, monitoring blood transfusions, being able to establish intraosseous (into bone) lines and the administration of several new medications.
As for response times, Dewart acknowledges that while the service strives to maintain its response times there are times when an ambulance must respond from outside of the community.
“It’s a borderless service,” said Dewart.
“We get deployed wherever, whenever by AHS.”
Regardless of whether it is an East Central ambulance or an AHS ambulance responding to a call, there are a few things people can do to assist the arrival of crews.
These things range from ensuring one has their home appropriately marked with a house number or rural address (blue sign), knowing your address or having it marked at a central location, such as your refrigerator, having a medication list handy for the patient, and locking pets up.
“The patient will be asked some questions a bunch of times,” said Dewart.
“This is normal.”
A final point to remember is to follow the instructions that the 911 dispatcher provides to you, and not to hang up on them unless directed to do so, according to Dewart.