Wait times down. Better EMS response times. Province releases results of 90 day Health Care Action Plan
90-day HCAP update: Health care wait times dropping
Albertans are spending less time waiting for the medical care they need since the Health Care Action Plan (HCAP) was launched.
Alberta has the best front-line health care workers in the world, and Alberta’s government will work to have the right supports in place to ensure Albertans get the care they need when and where they need it. When Alberta’s HCAP was launched on Nov. 17, Alberta’s government identified four different areas on which it would work with Alberta Health Services to improve. After 90 days, Albertans are seeing improvements in all four areas.
“We are delivering on our promise to reduce wait times, add more front-line staff and keep Albertans updated on the progress we’re making. There is no one silver bullet to fixing our health care system, and change will take time. But positive change is happening, and Albertans are receiving better access to the level of care they need when and where they need it. We appointed Dr. John Cowell as official administrator to speed up improvements and make sure Albertans are getting high quality of care sooner and we are seeing some good, early results.”
Improving EMS response time
In an emergency, every minute counts and over the past three months, ambulances have been responding faster to emergency calls. Improved ambulance times means that Albertans are receiving the urgent care they need from highly skilled paramedics more quickly.
From November to the end of January, EMS response times for most urgent calls improved across the province in metro, urban, rural and remote areas. The decrease in EMS wait times across the province can be broken down to:
- 17 minutes in metro and urban areas, down from 21.8 minutes
- 19.2 minutes in communities with more than 3,000 residents, down from 21.5 minutes
- 34.9 minutes in rural communities with fewer than 3,000 residents, down from 36 minutes
- 57.5 minutes in remote communities, down from 63.9 minutes
In addition to improved EMS wait times, more ambulances have been available, meaning that red alerts, which indicate a lack of ambulance availability at a point in time, were substantially reduced in Edmonton and Calgary:
- Edmonton has seen a 92 per cent reduction in the number of alerts issued in January 2023 compared with January 2022.
- Calgary has seen a 60 per cent reduction over the same period.
The initiative to triage 911 calls to the most appropriate level of care has also played a role in ensuring paramedics are able to answer the most urgent calls. Since the program was launched in January, 1,600 callers with non-urgent conditions were transferred from 911 to Health Link registered nurses. Alberta’s government is pleased to see progress on its aim to reduce EMS wait times and will continue working to further decrease the amount of time an Albertan waits for an ambulance to arrive.
“The good news is wait times are trending in the right direction and Albertans are getting the care they need more quickly. More doctors, nurses and paramedics are available to help Albertans, and more help is on the way as Alberta continues to add front-line workers for ambulances, ERs and across the system.”
Reducing surgery wait times
Alberta’s government continues its work to reduce surgical wait times for Albertans. Part of a strong health care system is ensuring that Alberta patients are receiving their surgeries within clinically recommended times. Since November 2022, the number of patients waiting longer than the clinically recommended time has decreased by 9.4 per cent.
Alberta’s chartered surgical facilities are helping to reduce wait times and ensure Albertans are receiving the surgeries they need to improve their health and their quality of life. Nearly 7,000 more publicly funded surgeries were completed at chartered surgical facilities in January compared with November, a number that includes orthopedic and eye surgeries. As this work continues, AHS is focused on ensuring that those patients who have waited the longest for surgery are prioritized.
“I would like to thank our incredible front-line workers as well as our AHS leaders, who have worked extremely hard to identify and implement improvements to our health care system, with focus on our priority areas. We have emerged from an extremely challenging time, and I am optimistic that we will continue to see improvements that will benefit all Albertans whenever they need our care and support.”
Decreasing emergency room wait times and improving access to care
Alberta’s government is also encouraged to see that in January, more Albertans received care sooner when they visited emergency departments. Progress in lowering emergency department wait times has been seen in the two measures:
- Wait time to see a doctor in an emergency department decreased by almost 10 per cent provincially since November.
- Time spent in an emergency department for admitted patients has been reduced by about five per cent.
There is still work to be done to ensure Albertans have lower wait times in emergency rooms across the province, and Alberta’s government will continue to make policy and funding decisions to see those improvements. In January, the number of assessed patients waiting in the province’s top 14 hospitals for a continuing care space was 179, lower than the 218 patients in the 2018-2019 fiscal year, and also lower than the 253 patients waiting in November 2022. A number of changes have helped to spur progress on emergency department wait times from November to the end of January:
- AHS opened 255 new acute care beds (non-intensive care unit) across the province.
- More beds in continuing care facilities have been opened – freeing more hospital beds for urgent care: 55 new long-term care beds, 292 new designated supportive living beds and 38 new community addiction and mental health beds.
- Additionally, 36 new transition beds for people discharged from ERs in Edmonton who are experiencing homelessness will be opened this year.
Empowering health care workers to deliver health care
Alberta continues to hire more health care workers to support key areas. AHS is adding 420 more positions in emergency rooms, acute care, EMS and community care, on top of the nearly 400 front-line and support staff hired since November. If passed, Budget 2023 would provide $158 million for a new Health Workforce Strategy to make sure the province has the medical professionals needed and to improve the work environment.
Alberta is making good progress on increasing the number of highly skilled doctors, nurses, paramedics, nurse practitioners and other health allied professionals in the province:
- AHS added 800 registered nurses, licensed practical nurses and health care aides in 2022.
- Since 2019, AHS has added 5,800 front-line staff, including 1,800 registered nurses and 300 paramedics.
- AHS recruited 28 physicians to rural Alberta and added 278 more registered nurses, licensed practical nurses and health care aides since November.
- EMS added 39 front-line staff, including paramedics and emergency communications officers, over the last three months.
- 80 additional full-time paramedic positions are being recruited, and AHS is transitioning 70 current temporary full-time EMS positions to regular full-time.
- AHS is currently hiring 114 full-time nursing staff for emergency department teams to speed up EMS transfers and free up paramedics to respond to more calls.
Canada under pressure to produce more food, protect agricultural land: report
Canada’s agricultural land is under increasing pressure to produce more food as demand grows domestically and internationally, while the industry grapples with limited resources and environmental constraints, a new report found.
“We need to grow more food on less land and in a volatile climate,” said Tyler McCann, managing director of the Canadian Agri-Food Policy Institute.
The report by the institute released Thursday looks at the pressures on Canada’s agricultural land to produce more food while also mitigating and adapting to the effects of climate change, said McCann.
Despite Canada being a big country, it doesn’t have as much agricultural land as people might think, said McCann, with the report noting that agricultural land makes up only around seven per cent of the country.
Because of that, we can’t take what we do have for granted, he said. “We need to be really thoughtful about how we are using our agricultural land.”
In 2020, Canada was the eighth largest country in terms of cropland area, the report said, with that cropland decreasing by seven per cent over the previous two decades.
Canada is a major producer and net exporter of agriculture and agri-food products, the report said, exporting $91 billion in products in 2022, and one of the top 10 exporters of wheat, canola, pulses, pork and beef.
In the coming years, Canada will face increased demand from countries whose populations are growing, the report said.
“With population growth on one side and climate change on the other, Canada will be amongst an increasingly smaller number of countries that is a net exporter,” said McCann, noting that Canada’s own population is growing, and farmland also needs to be protected against urban sprawl.
The wildfires clouding Canadian skies this week are a “vivid reminder” of the pressure that extreme weather and the changing climate are putting on the agricultural sector, said McCann.
“We need to clearly mitigate … agriculture’s impact on climate change. But we also need to make sure agriculture is adapting to climate change’s impacts,” he said.
One of the ways the world has responded to demand for increased agricultural production over time is to create more agricultural land, in some cases by cutting down forests, said McCann. But that’s not a viable option for Canada, which doesn’t have a lot of land that can be sustainably converted into farmland — and even if it could, doing so could have a variety of adverse environmental effects, he said.
Some of the practices used to reduce emissions and sequester carbon in agriculture can also improve production output on existing farmland, the report found, such as precision agriculture and no-till practices.
However, intensifying the production of current agricultural land also comes with potential environmental downsides, the report said.
For example, McCann said fertilizer is an important part of sustainable agriculture, but there’s a balance to be struck because excessive use of fertilizer can quickly turn food production unsustainable.
“We need to be a lot more thoughtful about the inputs that we’re using,” he said, adding the same can be said about the use of technology in agriculture and the policies and programs put in place to encourage sustainable intensification of Canadian agriculture.
The report recommends that Canada adopt policies that provide financial incentives and technical assistance to farmers and develop regulatory frameworks promoting sustainable land use, as well as promoting education and awareness campaigns, so that the country can “ensure the long-term sustainability of its agricultural sector while protecting the environment.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 8, 2023.
Rosa Saba, The Canadian Press
Lawyer tells Alberta’s highest court review board biased in de Grood’s case
A family member of five slain students holds a heart sign with their names on it following a court decision in Calgary, Alta., Wednesday, May 25, 2016. Alberta’s highest court is being asked to overturn a review board decision on the stabbing deaths of five young people at a Calgary house party that confined a man to a supervised Edmonton group home. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
By Ritika Dubey in Edmonton
Alberta’s highest court is being asked to overturn a review board decision that confined a man to a supervised Edmonton group home after the stabbing deaths of five young people at a Calgary house party.
The lawyer representing Matthew de Grood argued Wednesday the review board’s decision was biased, citing what she described as political interference from Alberta’s former justice minister.
“The appellant says, ‘I think the conclusion about me is wrong. The board’s conclusion is incorrect and not supported by evidence,”’ Jacqueline Petrie said before the Alberta Court of Appeal. “He says there’s no significant evidence that he’s a risk.”
De Grood, 31, was found not criminally responsible in 2016 for the killings two years earlier of Zackariah Rathwell, Jordan Segura, Kaitlin Perras, Josh Hunter and Lawrence Hong because he was suffering from schizophrenia at the time. Petrie said de Grood has been stable on medication, is at low risk to reoffend and should be allowed to live with his parents while being monitored under a full warrant.
She argued the review board misunderstood medical evidence during the September 2022 review, which deemed de Grood a significant risk despite the assessment showing improvements. She said the board is supposed to recommend the least onerous disposition compatible with public safety and did not do that for de Grood.
The defence lawyer has said the review had been influenced by former justice minister Doug Schweitzer, who weighed in on de Grood’s case in October 2019 after the panel allowed de Grood to transition from institutional care to a supervised group home.
He has been under supervision at a group home. His case is reviewed by the Alberta Review Board yearly to see whether he can transition back into the community while maintaining public safety.
Petrie pointed at de Grood’s “exemplary record,” and that he has been “compliant to the (medical) treatment team.”
“Nobody knew he had schizophrenia (at the time of the stabbings) and needed medication.”
Crown prosecutor Matthew Griener said the board considered a conditional discharge but dismissed it, citing a relapse in schizophrenia symptoms in 2021.
Griener said de Grood’s relapses were brief and happened at the hospital, providing an early window for medical professionals to intervene.
Justice Kevin Feehan said de Grood may be low-risk, but the consequences of even one relapse could be significant.
Reading from an expert’s report, Feehan said: “A low risk to offend doesn’t mean the reoffence would not be severe.”
Some family members of the victims drove from Calgary for the hearing.
Segura’s mother, Patty, said the last nine years have been about de Grood and his rights.
“He should be thankful that he ended up NCR (not criminally responsible) rather than end(ing) with five life sentences for murdering five people,” she said. “He should not be appealing.”
Hunter’s father, Barclay, opposed a potential full release.
“The idea that he wouldn’t be monitored for the rest of his life seems to defy logic, it doesn’t make any sense,” said the father.
Hunter’s mother, Kelly, said the family has had “no healing.”
“We do this every year, at least once. Now, this is the second appeal,” she said. Barclay
Hunter said although there are attempts to reintegrate de Grood into society, he hopes the man is not left on his own with an absolute discharge.
“Regardless of what they say, he killed five people. If that doesn’t stand on its own as a risk factor, then I don’t know what does.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 7, 2023.
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