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Chestermere mom worries strained EMS system can’t help her medically-compromised toddler

A Chestermere mom says pressure on the Alberta EMS system is also putting strain on her family. 

Brandy MacDonald’s two-year-old son, Kaiden, was born with a third accessory lung. It’s since been removed, but his remaining lungs are compromised, meaning a typical cold or flu can quickly escalate into a life-threatening situation.

“As he’s growing bigger, he’s decompensating faster, meaning that he can be perfectly fine at one check and 15 minutes later I’m needing an ambulance or I’m needing [the emergency room],” said MacDonald, 37, who’s an aircraft engineer by trade.

Last October, MacDonald called 911 when Kaiden was in medical distress and was told it would take more than an hour and 15 minutes for an ambulance to arrive. She rushed him to hospital herself. 

“He was in trauma resuscitating 24 minutes later. He wouldn’t have made it at home,” she said. 

MacDonald said she’s now focused on trying to avoid a repeat of that day. She’s become adept at treating Kaiden at home and will take him to hospital at the first sign of trouble. However, she said it isn’t ideal to be driving while also keeping an eye on his oxygen mask. 

MacDonald said she wants to feel confident an ambulance will be there quickly if Kaiden needs one, but she worries that’s not possible with the strain the emergency health system is under. 

Growing number of red alerts

Data released by Alberta Health Services (AHS) shows that in Calgary, the monthly average number of red alerts — which are issued when no ambulances are available to respond to emergency calls — more than doubled in the first six months of this year compared with the same period in 2021.

In recent years, the number of ambulance diverted away from communities like Chestermere, Airdrie and Cochrane into Calgary has also increased significantly

Calgary’s monthly average number of red alerts, which are issued when no ambulances are available to respond to emergency calls, more than doubled in the first six months of this year compared to the same period in 2021. (David Bell/CBC)

In a statement to CBC News, AHS said the healthcare system as whole is under significant pressure, particularly emergency departments and EMS. 

“Response times have increased and they’re above our targets, but EMS continues to work hard to reach people who need them as fast as possible,” the statement said. 

AHS said EMS coverage is being expanded in Okotoks and Chestermere this week, though it didn’t provide details about what that will involve. More ambulances will also come into service in Calgary and Edmonton next month, the statement said, which will help reduce the pressure on ambulances from other communities. 

The health authority’s so-called metro response plan is showing success and has reduced the number of suburban ambulance responses into Calgary by about 50 per cent since February, according to AHS.

As for MacDonald, she said she still has concerns and would like to see AHS focus on hiring more paramedic staff and releasing the results of the provincial EMS review that has now been delayed into the fall. 

“We’re wasting time, and it’s time that our family doesn’t have.”

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