The Alberta government is seeking a court order to stop a northern municipality from unilaterally withdrawing from the provincial medical emergency dispatch system.
Alberta Health and Alberta Health Services, the delivery arm of the health system, have filed a joint application with Court of Queen’s Bench to get an injunction to stop the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo from not transferring 911 calls to AHS emergency medical dispatch.
The municipality includes the oil sands hub city of Fort McMurray.
“This is not a step we take lightly however it is necessary to ensure ambulances continue to be dispatched appropriately, and that patient care is not put at risk,” AHS said in a news release Thursday.
“We are concerned that the municipality’s decision to no longer transfer 911 calls could adversely affect patient care.
“Following this move, AHS cannot guarantee patients will get timely, appropriate EMS (emergency medical services) care.”
The move comes a day after Wood Buffalo councillors voted to stop transferring emergency medical calls to the provincial dispatch centres on the grounds the recent changeover has led to logistical delays and confusion, putting patient safety at risk.
“There are circumstances when acts of defiance and resistance, I believe, are absolutely necessary,” Wood Buffalo Mayor Don Scott said Wednesday.
“When decisions are made by a level of government that put the health of our residents at risk in this region, then that’s one of them.
“We need to resist and defy that decision, and that’s exactly what my council did.”
Regional fire Chief Jody Butts said more than 20 per cent of calls since the transfer have led to mistakes or delays.
“I want to be very clear that this is an operational decision,” he said. “This is truly about the safety of our residents in our region.”
Alberta Health Services disagrees.
“The municipality has not provided any evidence to AHS to suggest that the recent consolidation of EMS dispatch has led to any delays or inappropriate responses,” said AHS in its statement.
“In addition, the municipality has not provided any information that would back up their public claims that they need to intervene in specific EMS calls due to integration of dispatch.”
Alberta has been consolidating emergency medical calls for more than a decade, with the remaining municipalities of Red Deer, Calgary, Lethbridge, and Wood Buffalo brought into the fold last month.
The mayors of those municipalities have been urging the province to not make the change.
Premier Jason Kenney, asked earlier Thursday about the standoff, said his government stands by the consolidation.
“Provincial central dispatch has worked extremely well for well over 95 per cent of the province’s municipalities,” he said.
“This is just a natural step forward.
“We’re absolutely committed to this change. We think it’s the best thing in terms of service as well as efficiency.”
The injunction application is to be heard Friday in Fort McMurray court.