Alberta to free up ambulances by privatizing interfacility transfers

Alberta has announced new money in an effort to improve the province’s EMS system, but critics contend a move towards privatizing interfacility transfers is not the answer.

The investments from the province include $35 million over three years to replace aging ambulances with funding going towards a new air ambulance review and paramedics workforce study.

The UCP government is also awarding two new contracts with partners to provide scheduled, low-acuity interfacility transfer services that the province says will help Alberta Health Services to focus on emergency responses and help reduce wait times.

“These contracts in Calgary and Edmonton will provide non-urgent transfer services, bolstering the resources of our EMS system,” according to Health Minister Adriana LaGrange.

The move has already sparked criticism, with those opposed citing previous examples of privatizing ambulance services being unsuccessful.

“We don’t think that’s going to help,” says Chris Galloway from Friends of Medicare. “Looking to Nova Scotia, or New Brunswick, or other provinces where they have privatized ambulance services, they’re seeing major problems.”

NDP health critic Luanne Metz says privatizing services not only impacts care, but also loses important public protection.

“We already know these private companies offer inferior jobs with fewer benefits and lower pay, so they have high turnover,” she says. “Outcomes in private delivery will no longer be easily monitored.”

LaGrange says if the contracted operators don’t fulfill their duties, then their contracts will simply just end.

“We do audit, as does emergency services, we will be keeping a close eye,” she says.

The province says around 174,000 interfacility transfers happen every year and work is already underway to expand them to other areas, aside from Edmonton and Calgary.

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