Alberta introducing alternatives to ambulances for non-emergencies

By Courtney Theriault

Alberta Health Services will use alternative modes of transportation for non-emergency transfers to hospital.

The province says this will free up ambulances and paramedics, allowing them to respond to more urgent calls.

Those alternatives include community shuttles, taxis and other options.

It could be an ordinary van, for instance, that’s been outfitted for a stretcher or wheelchair that won’t roll around.

AHS says the alternative modes of transport will be for patients who do not require medical support during transport and are able to care for themselves on the way.

Those who use alternative ambulance transports would need to pay for the service themselves, but the province says it is prepared to provide funding to ensure cost is not a barrier.

A shortage of available ambulances this year led to Edmonton police officers taking patients to hospital in some cases. AHS said it happened only a few times.

Alberta Premier Danielle Smith says the alternative to ambulances has already been piloted in places like Calgary and Bonnyville for more than six months.

AHS estimates the program will free up 70 ambulance trips across the province every day.

WATCH: Some patients taken to hospital by Edmonton Police in 2022

Increase in calls to 911

Health Minister Jason Copping says Alberta is seeing a “sustained increase” – by 30 per cent – of calls to 9-1-1. He says emergency departments are seeing high volumes as well, meaning paramedics are waiting longer in ERs.

Copping says they’ve added 450 paramedics to the system over the past three years are working to increase that.

In Edmonton and Red Deer, response times are on target – about eight minutes. But Calgary is struggling to reach that target time, Copping said.

The province also highlighted four other ways of improving EMS response times

  • Adding triage physicians in ER waiting rooms;
  • Sending 911 calls to 811 where appropriate;
  • Allowing paramedics to assess and treat without transport to hospital;
  • Implementing an EMS provincial service plan.

Dr. John Cowell, and official administrator with AHS, says they are encouraging businesses who want to help provide alternative medical transport services to contact the government to see if they can be put on the preferred vendor list.

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