AHS and RMWB sign EMS agreement that includes full cost recovery

With this new agreement, Fort McMurray Wood Buffalo is Alberta’s first community to have a fully integrated model backed by AHS.

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A new municipal agreement with Alberta Health Services (AHS) will fully fund the unique EMS system covering the Fort McMurray Wood Buffalo region. The agreement is a fulfillment of a provincial promise made last October that the Alberta government would fully fund local EMS when the current contract ended on March 31.

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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. Last September, municipal councillors unanimously voted to extend its previous contract with AHS while pushing for a contract that includes full cost recovery for EMS. 

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“This is a positive step in the right direction, and it secures an important relationship and service that is essential for all of us,” said Mayor Sandy Bowman in a statement. “This step also demonstrates an approach from the Government of Alberta that recognizes the uniqueness and importance of our region, and the excellence of our integrated, regional emergency response system.”

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The municipality paid nearly $2.5 million annually under an EMS contract that ran from 2014 to March 2022. The province covered the remaining costs of nearly $7.2 million.

Patricia Penton, the municipality’s assistant deputy chief of EMS, told council at a September meeting that medical calls made up 60 per cent of firefighter calls in Alberta. Penton said the integrated model has its advantages, such as cross-training. But higher labour costs and EMS call volumes across the region makes the model expensive for the RMWB.

With this new agreement, Fort McMurray Wood Buffalo is Alberta’s first community to have a fully integrated model backed by AHS.

“This new agreement reflects a partnership with Alberta Health Services that provides a sustainable future in delivering a critical service to the region,” said Chief Jody Butz in a statement. “Our emergency teams are the heart of our service and care deeply about their communities and this re-affirms our commitment to delivering high-quality care to the RMWB.”

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The issue is separate from negotiations on returning local EMS dispatch to the region, which the municipality says are going well. Local EMS dispatch is expected to return to the region by the end of the year. This ends a dispute that began when the province announced in 2020 that EMS dispatch would run from centralized hubs in Edmonton, Calgary and Peace River.

“While emergency medical dispatch services were not included as part of the agreement, positive negotiations continue between the municipality and AHS,” said the municipal statement. “Teams are currently preparing for the transition of EMS Dispatch back to our local, 911 Emergency Communications Centre and dispatch team.”

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