By Gillian Slade
Alberta Newspaper Group
HALO says its agreement with the provincial government expires in about three weeks and because Alberta’s next budget is delayed, negotiations have not even begun.
Dale Thacker, co-chair of HALO’s board of directors, says there have been talks with Alberta Health Services but they are not getting direction from the new government.
Thacker says HALO, which provides emergency medical services by helicopter, is struggling to cover its operational costs until Oct. 1 when the agreement expires.
“It looks like we are going to be about $750,000 short,” said Thacker, who believes the community and region have been generous and done their share to support HALO.
Thacker says HALO was expecting a funding model like HERO, which operates out of Fort McMurray, where two thirds of the operating cost is covered by government funding.
“This is an essential service and I feel that we are incredibly good value,” said Thacker.
Drew Barnes, MLA for Cypress-Medicine Hat, says he is grateful to the HALO staff, volunteers and supporters.
“It is past time for the government of Alberta to fund air ambulance services in southern Alberta at the same per-capita level it does for STARS and the rest of Albertans,” said Barnes. “The Alberta government needs to convey this to the people providing the life-saving services of HALO before commitments cannot be met.”
Proof of the need for HALO is its recent presence at the scene of two different accidents near Oyen, said Thacker. One of those needed both the single and the twin-engine helicopters.
HALO’s annual budget, for which it depends on donations, was $850,000 to operate a single-engine helicopter. It increased to $2.6 million with the BK-117 twin engine. HALO is now able to transport patients directly to a Calgary hospital from the scene of an accident if required.
HALO has already been receiving a fee for service from the government for the flights it is asked to carry out.
The situation has Gordon Reynolds, mayor of Bow Island and chair of the southeast mayors and reeves, concerned.
Reynolds says Rangeland Helicopters has been bankrolling the shortfall, but it should not have to.
“As municipal representatives we want the government to know that our communities value this service and we recognize it as a more efficient way to provide EMS services in the rural area and it’s proven itself, it’s saving lives and operating cost effectively,” said Reynolds. “We don’t believe the government should pay the full bill because municipalities and individuals are prepared to continue contributing. The government needs to come to the table.”
In early January this year, Sarah Hoffman, then minister of health with the NDP, announced a one-time grant of $1 million to help meet the operating budget for HALO.
At the time Hoffman said it was HALO switching to the BK-117 twin-engine helicopter, after using a single-engine helicopter for many years, that made the difference in terms of patient safety, crew safety and its ability to provide increased service.
Thacker explained at the time that HALO had to provide a service that AHS was willing to support.
Hoffman said AHS would be conducting a review of all of the Emergency Medical Services and helicopter medevac services to determine funding in the future.