New EMS chief seeks region-wide ambulance plan

Ben Lemphers/For Metro Edmonton


New EMS Chief Joe Acker talks to the media yesterday at the central McDougall station at 105 Street and 105 Avenue.

Lengthy wait times for ambulance delivery need a region-wide solution that will ease extreme pressures that have plagued the health-care system, says the city’s new chief of ambulance services.

EMS Chief Joe Acker says there’s no "magic bullet" to end the health-care crisis, but one of his top priorities will be finding ways of sharing ambulance services with Edmonton’s neighbours.

"I personally believe that EMS in the region can be done more efficiently and more effectively with region-wide co-operation," he said yesterday.

A regional ambulance model, he said, could decrease the occurrences of red alerts — when no ambulances are available but there are still calls for service. A nearby municipality could dispatch an available ambulance in such cases.

In January and February there was a dramatic spike in red alerts over last year’s numbers, he said, but expects there is an "end in sight" since an additional 33 paramedics will join the EMS team this year.

Officially announced as the new chief yesterday, Acker has nearly 20 years experience in emergency services and was the former general manager for STARS air ambulance. He joined EMS two years ago as deputy chief.

Previous discussions around forming a regional ambulance service were quashed in 2004. Last year, Premier Ed Stelmach announced the creation of a capital region board to oversee major projects, but emergency services are listed as a "secondary priority."

Acker hopes to initiate meetings with the province and city council so he can form mutual agreements on ambulance service with Edmonton’s neighbours.

Gerry Wiles, president of the EMS union, says regional ambulance service is worth exploring.

"We’re on the edge every day," he said of the city’s paramedics. "We’re on the edge of collapse every day. But with working together, I think we can find new ways to improve the system overall."

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