AHS paramedics Kaitlyn Kowalkowski, right, and Richard Norton stand with the new power stretchers and patient loading system that will be installed into the AHS ambulances over the next several months. Image: AHS

AHS paramedics Kaitlyn Kowalkowski, right, and Richard Norton stand with the new power stretchers and patient loading system that will be installed into the AHS ambulances over the next several months. Image: AHS

Bashaw ambulance among ones to be upgraded

AHS ambulances set to receive new stretchers designed to limit potential injuries

An upgrade for the ambulance in Bashaw is coming soon.

Alberta Health Services (AHS) announced earlier this month that its entire ambulance fleet — which amounts to around 350 — will soon be equipped with power stretchers and load systems as part of a program to eliminate many of the injuries emergency medical services (EMS) personnel can receive while lifting patients.

“We know patient lifting and handling is a leading cause of injuries with our employees, and that is the primary area we are expecting to see an improvement. The health and safety of our staff is very important to us,” stated Mike Plato, AHS EMS associate executive director of business standards and operations support.

AHS president and CEO Dr. Verna Yiu reiterated safety is the biggest reason for the $20 million dollar investment being made by the province for this initiative.

“Protecting the health and safety of our staff is one of our top priorities. Every employee deserves to work in the safest environment possible and it is our job to ensure that happens,” she added.

The stretchers use a battery-powered hydraulic system to lift up to 317 kilograms (700 pounds) safely and without physical strain. All current AHS ambulances are scheduled to be retrofitted with the new equipment over the next nine months, with the equipment coming as standard issue with any new ambulances.

“Repetitive lifting is one of the leading causes of injuries to EMS practitioners. The new power stretchers and lift system will reduce the frequency of front-line crews having to physically lift patients in and out of ambulances, reducing the risk of injuries,” stated Darren Sandbeck, AHS EMS chief paramedic.

The decision to install the new lifts and stretchers comes following an 18-month pilot project where the equipment was used on eight AHS inter-facility transfer vehicles. Not one lift-related injury was reported by staff using the new lifts during that time, while other EMS staff that didn’t use the lifts reported 84 patient-handling injuries over the same period.

Mike Parker, president of the Health Sciences Association of Alberta, which represents EMS personnel at AHS, believes this is a positive start.

“Our members work hard to help and heal patients. Far too often they become patients because of unnecessary injuries they suffer at work,” he said.

The only catch regarding the initiative is that only AHS ambulances will be receiving the lift systems, leaving a large number of the province’s ambulances that are operated by private contractors without the new technology.

Plato explained that each of those contractors are able to identify and establish their own priorities and objectives, some of whom have begun to install this kind of equipment. However, as the provincial government made the decision on funding, it will be up to them to determine how much further it will go with this initiative in the future.

“Our contracted ambulance operators are valued partners with AHS EMS and important in the provision of medical service to Albertans,” he stated.

“We have had some preliminary conversations with some of our contracted operators seeking additional information, but as this was an investment decision made by the Government of Alberta, we cannot speak on the government’s behalf regarding funding potential for our contracted ambulance service operators.”

Tim Kulak, media relation spokesperson for Alberta Health, explained that the current funding in place for the 34 contracted companies is meant to help them pay for maintaining and equipping their vehicles — which may include items such as the power-life systems.

“We take the health and safety of all EMS staff very seriously,” he said.

“This announcement is an important step in the right direction, and we’ll continue to work with Alberta Health Services and all EMS providers to provide the safest possible work environments.”