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Ambulance response investigated after death

Alberta Health Services is probing ambulance response in Sylvan Lake

by Paul Cowley

Red Deer Advocate

Alberta Health Services is probing ambulance response in Sylvan Lake after a resident claimed it took nearly 30 minutes for help to arrive for a man who collapsed and stopped breathing on a residential street.

Ryder’s Ridge resident Garry Virag said a man had been shovelling snow on Rafferty Court in the afternoon of Mar. 19, then he was spotted lying unconscious on the sidewalk.

A resident administered CPR and 911 was called.

Virag said that after 20 minutes, ambulance sirens were heard but the ambulance drove by the Ryder’s Ridge neighbourhood where bystanders were working to revive  the man. The man’s condition improved briefly and then he went into cardiac arrest a second time.

It was a further 10 minutes before the first of two ambulances found the scene after being given instructions over a cellphone and waved down by residents.

“I realize that GPS doesn’t show Rafferty Court. It’s not on GPS yet. But there are things called maps, or listen to the … instructions that are given to you,” said Virag, who is still steamed at the response time.

“It should never have happened.”

The victim, who appeared to be in his 50s, later died.

Virag said he doesn’tknow if a faster response would have made a difference — but it bothers him that it might have.

“The guy deserved a chance and he didn’t get it.

“It was very upsetting.”

Alberta Health Services says it is looking into the incident.

“Our sympathy goes out to the family of the patient involved. AHS is reviewing this incident to determine details of the call and the EMS response,” said an emailed response from communications adviser Heather Kipling.

“Out of respect for the  family and as the review is ongoing, AHS will not comment further at this time.”

Virag said he wrote a letter to the town to try to ensure that something is done to prevent similar incidents in the future.

Sylvan Lake Mayor Susan Samson has assured him the town is following up on the incident.

Better signage to the year-old neighbourhood was already planned and will be in place soon.

Virag, 65, who was once an RCMP officer and is a former volunteer firefighter and Bowden town councillor, is also encouraged that health officials are reviewing what happened.

“We got a ball rolling here and that’s what has to happen. If they don’t get any feedback about what’s wrong, or what’s going on, nothing ever changes.”

Samson said the town will send a letter expressing its concern to Alberta Health Services and Health Minister Fred Horne.

Samson said slow ambulance response times are worrying, especially in Sylvan Lake, which lacks an urgent care centre and relies on Red Deer’s hospital for emergency care.

“It just really compounds the problem,” she said.

The town wants to get to the bottom of why the ambulances apparently took so long and whether it was because they had to be called in from outside the community.

Innisfail-Sylvan Lake Wildrose MLA Kerry Towle said her party has heard a number of concerns from Albertans that the province’s central ambulance dispatch system isn’t working and ambulances are struggling to find addresses.

Part of the problem with the system is that ambulances with local knowledge are often “flexed” into Red Deer and other crews less familiar with an area get called in to cover for them.

Towle wants to know if that scenario happened in this case. She also plans to speak with Virag.