AHS agrees to full cost recovery for integrated EMS in Fort McMurray Wood Buffalo

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The Alberta government has agreed to fully fund the unique EMS system covering the Fort McMurray Wood Buffalo region.

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AHS committed to full cost recovery for EMS on Oct. 1. This funding will be included in a six-month interim deal and any new agreement with the RMWB and Alberta Health Services (AHS), said municipal spokesperson Greg Bennett.

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“This is a very positive step that recognizes the unique nature of the region, and what we know here as the valuable, irreplaceable role RES plays for all of us – in all aspects of EMS delivery,” said Mayor Sandy Bowman in a Tuesday email.

The deal comes a week after municipal councillors unanimously voted to extend its previous contract with AHS while pushing for a contract that includes full cost recovery for EMS. The municipality paid nearly $2.5 million annually under the previous EMS contract that ran from 2014 to March 2022. The province covered the remaining costs of nearly $7.2 million.

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Alberta Health Services (AHS) took over EMS in the region in 2009. The integrated fire and EMS department for the region, however, means the RMWB had to cover extra costs not under previous contacts.

Patricia Penton, the municipality’s assistant deputy chief of EMS, told council at last Tuesday’s meeting that medical calls make up 60 per cent of firefighter calls in Alberta, she said. Penton said the integrated model allows for cross-training. Higher labour costs and EMS call volumes across the region is also expensive for the RMWB.

Penton adds that AHS has invested an extra $108 million in EMS across Alberta in recent years and promised an extra $196 million for the next three years. Penton says none of that funding has yet to be announced for Fort McMurray Wood Buffalo. AHS does not fund the integrated models in any other city in Alberta.

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“The extension will allow time for both parties to continue to work together to finalize a long-term agreement for service provision in the region, which recognizes the uniqueness of the region, the valued partnership and our mutual commitment to the community,” said AHS spokesperson Kerry Williamson in a Wednesday email.

This new agreement is separate from the RMWB’s ongoing fight over local EMS dispatch. The current and previous mayor ad council, as well as emergency response leaders, have protested the Alberta government’s decision to move dispatch services away from local centres and towards a centralized system.

A January review of the system from the Alberta government found no issues with the centralized dispatch system. A spokesperson for Alberta Health Minister Adriana LaGrange said the province will continue meeting with communities about dispatch services, but there are no plans to move away from centralized dispatch.

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