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Monday , 14 June 2021

City of Cold Lake Moves to Take Over Ambulance Service

City of Cold Lake will ask AHS to allow the City to assume the Cold Lake Ambulance contract

After years of running a deficit and requesting  and receiving funding assistance from the City, the Cold Lake Ambulance Society (CLAS) presented dire news to Council in 2015 – if there is not a funding change the ambulance service cannot continue to operate at the same level of care. “It was a tough decision for Council, but one we had to make,” says Mayor of Cold Lake, Craig Copeland, “we just weren’t willing to reduce the level of care for our residents.”

“The City of Cold Lake will enter into contract negotiations with the Province to take over that contract,” Mayor Copeland explains that CLAS will write a letter to Alberta Health Services (AHS) stating that they can no longer manage the ambulance service. At the same time, the City of Cold Lake will write a letter showing their intent to take over the ambulance service. “If AHS is comfortable with that, we will then bring the ambulance service into the City of Cold Lake.”

We’re about trying to make Cold Lake a great city to live in. The ambulance is an essential service. – Craig Copeland Mayor of Cold Lake

“It’s about level of service. CLAS had a big decision in front of them, and one of them was a reduced level of service on the second car,” the Mayor explains that the second car was in threat of being turned into a flex car. Meaning it would not be active 24 hours a day. There is a third ambulance in Cold Lake that already operates as a flex car, reducing the second to a rotating service was just not an option for Council. “Council wasn’t comfortable with reducing the level of service for our community. By bringing the [ambulance service] in, if AHS will allow us, the second car will continue to be a 24 hour car. This would maintain a car in the north and a car in south, when they are not on calls.”

“CLAS is at a burn-rate of $250,000-300,000 a year. Council knows that if we take on this entity we could be faced with that kind of a deficit.”  Mayor Copeland says the deficit will be assumed by the City, a cost they are willing to take on to ensure the continued – or greater- level of service. “It’s an essential service, important for the citizens of Cold Lake and area to have ambulance care. Council held a hard business discussion and made a big community decision to see if AHS will allow us to take it over as a contract.”

“As everybody knows, CLAS is in financial trouble. The City of Cold Lake, instead of being a granter of funds for them, Council is going to see if AHS will let the contract be assigned to the City. The CLAS employees would come over and join the City forces and the ambulances will be part of the City of Cold Lake assets. Otherwise, CLAS was going to reduce the level of service for that second car and probably have to reduce staff. We just weren’t, as a Council, to go there.”

It’s about quality of care for the citizens of Cold Lake – Craig Copeland Mayor of Cold Lake

“It would be a contract between AHS and the City of Cold Lake.” AHS has similar contracts with other municipalities and third-party agencies. In Bonnyville the ambulance is ran through the Bonnyville Regional Fire Authority, which operates through the Town & the MD of Bonnyville. Whereas in Elk Point the ambulance is operated through a third-party agency, Prairie Ambulance Services. In either case, AHS pays a monthly allowance to the agencies/municipalities to operate the service; this amount can leave shortfalls, which are picked up by the agency with the contract, not AHS.

There are other issues that will not be resolved by the City assuming the contact; which include, Code Reds, where Cold Lake is left without an ambulance for an extended period of time. Because the ambulance service operates on a needs-basis, regardless of who holds the contract, the ambulance would still be called out on transfers and out-of-town emergencies. The service will likely still operate as a deficit, Mayor Copeland says the impact on taxes cannot be calculated until the 2017 Budget negotiations.

Having the second car go to flex was not something we were willing to see. AHS might be comfortable with that, but were not. It was the right thing to do on Council’s part. – Craig Copeland Mayor of Cold Lake

About Jena Colbourne