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Alberta orders outside review into ambulance response time to dog attack victim

EMS initially triaged the “dog bite” as non-life-threatening based on 911 call centre information

Alberta Health Services says there will be an independent review into why it took an ambulance 30 minutes to get to an 86-year-old woman who had been attacked by three dogs.

Police and paramedics responded Sunday to Calgary’s Capitol Hill neighbourhood and found the injured woman, Betty Ann Williams. She was taken to hospital and later died.

Mauro Chies, interim president of Alberta Health Services, said Williams’s death was tragic.

“We are aware of the concerns expressed about the time it took for an ambulance to arrive at the scene and we take those concerns very seriously,” Chies said at a news conference Thursday.

Alberta Health Services, which runs emergency medical services, said earlier this week that the initial 911 call was sent to police based on information provided from the scene.

A neighbour who called 911, however, told CTV Calgary she asked for an ambulance and did her best to tell the dispatcher what was going on.

Chies said EMS initially triaged the “dog bite” as non-life-threatening based on information received from the city’s 911 call centre. Police then notified EMS when they arrived on the scene that the patient’s injuries were serious.

“The severity of the incident calls for the external review,” he said. “Obviously there are a lot of questions that would say there was … a delay in getting an ambulance to the site.

“We want to give assurances to the public that we are getting an independent, objective review.”

The City of Calgary said in a statement it will conduct its own investigation into the call and fully supports the independent review.

Chies said the review, which is expected to take about four months, will be done by someone from outside the province. It is to look into the calls made to emergency dispatch, ambulance response time and availability of ambulances at the time.

Alberta Health Services confirmed later Thursday that Calgary was in a red alert, which means no ambulances were available when the call came in.

“Eighteen ambulances were waiting to off-load patients at various medical facilities,” spokesman Kerry Williamson said in an email.

“All other ambulances in Calgary zone were already assigned to events.”

Last month, the Opposition NDP raised concerns about ambulance times in urban areas after data showed responses had progressively worsened in the past year.

Premier Jason Kenney said earlier Thursday that the 30-minute response in Williams’s case was not adequate and the health authority must figure out what happened.

“They need to get to the bottom of this and find out exactly what went wrong in terms of the communication so something like this doesn’t happen again,” he said at an unrelated news conference.

Health Minister Jason Copping added at the same event that he had asked the health agency to do a more thorough investigation.

“Albertans can be rest assured that we are going to investigate this fully. Any recommendations that come out of it to improve the system … we will take those to heart,” he said.

“People should feel safe in their communities … that when the call comes out, help will be there when it’s needed.”

David Shepherd, health critic for the NDP, said in a statement that a four-month timeline is too long.

“The incident in Calgary last weekend is a horrific tragedy and must be a call for action to address the escalating crisis in our hospital and ambulance systems,” he said.

“Calgarians deserve answers as soon as possible, in particular those directly affected by this.”

Mayor Jyoti Gondek said she believes it’s a problem with the decision to consolidate ambulance dispatch services in the province.

“People are suffering, lives are at risk and action must be taken,” she said late Thursday.

The cities of Calgary, Red Deer, Lethbridge and the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo have long raised concerns about the consolidation — although Copping said earlier in the day that the changes to dispatch don’t appear to be relevant in the initial review of the case by AHS.

A police investigation into the fatal dog attack is also ongoing.

Police have said the dogs, which were seized by the city, are believed to be a North American pit bull-terrier mix, a North American Staffordshire mix and an American pit bull.

Criminal charges or fines could be laid and the dogs could be put down.

—Colette Derworiz, The Canadian Press

RELATED: Calgary police investigating death of 83-year-old woman after dog attack