While the Town and MD of Bonnyville approved the Bonnyville Regional Fire Authority’s request of $25,000 each to support the replacement of an ambulance, the overall situation seems to be getting worse.
The BFRA asked the municipalities for support because their capital reserves are “depleted” just to keep up with the current workload, said Jay Melvin, deputy fire chief during council meetings last week.
“The state of the ambulance fleet is deteriorating at a rapid rate. We’re seeing major mechanical breakdowns to the increase in travel. Transfers between Bonnyville and the city [Edmonton] based on the lack of services in the health centre in our region,” said Melvin.
The BRFA is in a contract with Alberta Health Services that expires in the next two years.
The funding they are receiving has been flat, which means they are not getting any more money for doing more work.
Bonnyville will be replacing an ambulance next year as well ( they have three total) but the centralization of services to Edmonton creates what Mayor Gene Sobolewski calls AHS’s “glorious lack of understanding” about rural health care.
”As a result of using our reserve account, we depleted the ability to replace our ambulances, and the amount of funding they provide isn’t a) adequate or b) reflective of the type of equipment they need.”
“AHS doesn’t recognize the distances and geographic challenges in rural Alberta.”
This ratchets up the costs to repair and replace ambulances and takes a local one away for several hours, often spending that time waiting at the hospitals.
This issue hurts rural areas across the province and “puts more people’s lives at risk,” said MLA Scott Cyr. It also can’t be solved by the municipalities.
“We could add 50 new ambulances paid for by the municipalities, but we’re not probably going to see much difference in service and care because they’re all trapped in Edmonton,” said Cyr.
“While I have nothing against Edmonton – they absolutely need ambulance care – we need to be cautious to make sure we’re not scavenging from rural Alberta and give them the level of care they need.”
Cyr has been critical of the province’s centralized dispatching, which makes for longer response times locally and the possibility of Code Reds (having no ambulances available).
Often times when both Cold Lake and Bonnyville are spread thin with only one ambulance, it will sit north of Ardmore to accommodate a call from anywhere in the area.
“We saw Code Red’s going through the roof about three years ago, and I would say that we were fortunate that we didn’t have any fatalities,” he said.
“But whenever you play with people’s lives by having no ambulance service, that’s completely unacceptable, and the Alberta government needed to address this. The fact is that they won’t.”
These issues are slowly being addressed as negotiations for a new contract begin to unfold.
“AHS has to re-evaluate and modify their standards to suit a rural Alberta model, so we can respond,” said Mayor Sobolewski.
“We need to basically have more satellite areas. We need to be able to pay wages and offer attractive bonuses so we can get the paramedics, so that we can get the practitioners, so we can have these ambulances respond.”
The current contract with AHS expires in two more years.