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Ambulances wait outside the emergency entrance of the University of Alberta Hospital in Edmonton.

JASON FRANSON/The Globe and Mail

Alberta is hiring more paramedics and deploying more ambulances in an attempt to improve front-line medical care.

Health Minister Sarah Hoffman says the province is adding 58 first responders in Edmonton and Calgary to go with more than 30 new hires in smaller centres.

She says there will also be 16 liaison officers for hospitals in Edmonton and Calgary to help paramedics when they deliver patients.

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The idea is to get paramedics back out on the streets faster.

Hoffman says the province is also expanding home care that allows paramedics to treat vulnerable people and seniors where they live rather than having them go to hospitals.

The changes are being paid for by an extra $29 million included in this year’s budget.

“We know timely access can save lives,” Hoffman told a news conference Friday.

“Albertans want to know that when they or their loved ones are in need of care in the face of emergencies, that they won’t have to wait.”

There will be new ambulances or extended ambulance hours in smaller centres along with 15 new ambulances in Edmonton and Calgary, Hoffman said.

An additional $1 million being spent on mental-health care for first responders will include hiring a full-time psychologist.

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“(This) will help paramedics work through the emotional stress involved in delivering front-line care.”

Mike Hennig, who represents Edmonton paramedics through the Health Sciences Association of Alberta, said the additional mental-health care funds are critical.

“We know that we’ll be meeting the public in their hardest moments and we don’t shy away from that,” said Hennig. “But putting on a brave face day to day takes its toll on us.

“It is my hope that in the not-too-distant future I will stop getting calls about my colleagues who have been forced to take time off work due to PTSD, or who have taken more extreme measures to deal with the pressures they face on the job.”

There are about 3,000 EMS workers in Alberta.

With the $29 million boost, the budget for emergency medical services this year is $524 million.

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