Edmonton EMS at the brink

Credits: Codie McLachlan/Edmonton Sun/QMI Agency


EDMONTON - More emergency calls than ever and overstuffed emergency departments have brought the province's emergency response system to the brink, said an Alberta Health Services paramedic in Edmonton.

"The other day, we responded to 317 calls for help in a 24-hour period. It was a single-day record for us in Edmonton," said "Rick," speaking to QMI Agency on condition of anonymity.

"Consolidation" has one paramedic hall-tending four patients yet to be seen in emergency in an effort to get some EMS personnel back out on the road to help other patients.

One recent 12-hour Saturday shift, Rick spent 10.5 hours in the hospital.

Last week, he spent 2.5 hours at an Edmonton hospital before being cleared to help a "non-emergent" call from a disabled woman. Hurt in a fall, she was stuck on the ground for three hours until he could get there.

"I was pretty sad, she's a really super sweet lady, and deserved a hell of a lot better than that," Rick said, recalling a pre-election flurry of promises to fix a broken emergency system.

"Hot and heavy in the press. A bunch of people came forward, seemed to light a fire under everybody at the time. But it's slowly crept up over a year," he said.

A wild flu season isn't helping in places like Sherwood Park and beyond, Rick said, calling Edmonton the "toilet bowl of health care."

"We keep drawing from farther out in concentric circles, leaving those smaller cities with no coverage at all because they're in Edmonton doing calls," he said, quoting a running joke among EMS crews.

He said among crews there is a tremendous number of incredibly disillusioned people."

"We used to have a morale problem, but then again, we used to have morale," he said. "When you don't get meal breaks, you can't go to the bathroom – it wears on you."

A recent provincial report said 675 patients camping out as "emergency in-patients." The biggest oxymoron ever, Rick said.

Those patients would be in long-term or community care if the beds were there, he said.

"We're not keeping up to the needs of the citizens of Alberta," leading to bad trickle-down for Alberta's EMS workers, Rick said.

"We're what shit rolls down to. Ultimately, shit rolled down to emergency and got stuck there. Now it's on the ambulances.

"We're doing the best we can. We're under-resourced, under-staffed and there's no morale so you have people who are just done."

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