Halo air ambulance service could cease operations if they do not get the provincial funding support they need to operate.
As per the release that was sent out Thursday, HALO will be forced to scale back operations to the single-engine helicopter as of June 1.
The service will be limited with the single-engine helicopter for a period of 30 days.
If government investment is not obtained and the public relations funding campaign is not successful, then all operations will cease July 1.
Paul Carolan, CEO for HALO air ambulance, spoke further to the announcement with the Commentator.
“We’re in situation where we haven’t had the benefit of provincial invested since the very beginning of our program and as a consequence we don’t have the same reserves that other programs have at the province,” said Carolan.
“We are unable to weather the impact of COVID-19. Something that I think is really important and I really want to be clear about ,however, is COVID-19 is the catalyst for this announcement but it’s not the cause. The cause is the lack of provincial investment in an essential service in Southern Alberta. And for pennies on the dollar, compared to other programs in the province, the province could invest here and we would be able to provide incredible service for as long as the future allows.”
HALO will undertake a public relations campaign in an attempt to save the program.
“The campaign will highlight the incredible successes of the program, the dedicated people that volunteered tirelessly to keep it in service, the far-reaching and unwavering community support and that we have exhausted the capacity to fund an essential service on the backs of community minded people, businesses and regional and municipal government,” said Carolan in the initial release.
The release went on to further say that in the event the public relations campaign generates six months of fully funded operations, that the HALO board has agreed to extend the program in hopes that an agreement with the government can finally be realized.
County of Forty Mile Reeve Steve Wikkerink voiced his displeasure at the province after the announcement was made by HALO.
“One of (our)councilors directly said (at council’s May 13 meeting), ‘It feel like we’re second-rate citizen down here,” said Wikkerink.
“One thing that frustrated me a lot (a couple) weeks ago was all the advertising that you heard from the radio station supporting STARS(Shock Trauma Air Rescue Service) and some of their statements that ‘When time is of the essence, you need STARS.’ The truth be told, anything beyond Brooks, away from Calgary, or south of Highway 3, when time is of the essence, HALO is our answer.”
Furthermore to his frustration was the fact STARS was coming to the local area and promoting themselves and taking donations away from the general public that should have been going to HALO and instead are going back to Calgary.
Wikkerink said by the government not putting any funding into this organization, that “You just took our lifeline away when it comes to emergencies, if you’re not willing to fund this as a provincial government.”
“We need the general population to buy into this thing down here or we’re going to lose it,” said Wikkerink.
“It’s no longer just a municipal fight anymore. Now we need the entire population to hammer Mr. ( Cypress-Medicine Hat MLA Drew) Barnes, (local MLA) Grant Hunter, MP Glen Motz, Premier Kenney that all of our lives down here are just as important as everywhere in Central Alberta that STARS can serve to the best of their ability.”
Wikkerink has been a long battle as a county council member for HALO funding.
“We’ve been fighting this for the seven years that I’ve been on council with two different governments and they’re all treating us a second-rate citizens … Now as local leaders we’re very upset.”
Cypress County Reeve Dan Hamilton provided a statement on behalf of the municipality.
“HALO is a vital service to Southeastern Alberta which has saved many lives, ” said Hamilton.
“Cypress County has always been a strong supporter of HALO, and applauds the dedication of the HALO Board and staff to ensure quality air ambulance services to many Albertans. It is the hope of Cypress County that the provincial government will see the tremendous value and vital services that HALO delivers.”
As the HALO news rolled out on Thursday, Cypress-Medicine Hat MLA Drew Barnes confirmed to the Alberta Newspaper Group that he spoke to Health Minister Tyler Shandro.
Barnes says he talked with Shandro on Thursday and it is unlikely there will be any support from government until the review is completed in late summer.
Barnes provided a Friday response on the HALO situation.
“HALO is an extremely important lifesaving asset to the southern Alberta region, that since 2007 has saved countless lives,” said Barnes.
“It is most unfortunate that while fighting to save lives, the HALO organization has also had to continuously fight to save itself. I thank all of the people and organizations that have supported the HALO initiative since its inception. There has always been a heavy emphasis by HALO to support itself through fundraising and, as always, southern Albertans have been generous.”
Barnes was assured by Shandro that there will be “no gaps in service” during this time.
He has advocated for a solution to keep HALO viable through four different provincial administrators.
Here is what Barnes said to Shandro immediately following the last election.
“Throughout my time as MLA for Cypress-Medicine Hat, I can attest to the fact that the HALO program has been of great service and value to the residents of southeastern Alberta, in addition to those that come here to work and visit,” said Barnes.
“This local helicopter rescue organization is essential to our community and provides a peace of mine for southeastern Albertans as they have been under represented and under serviced for the past 12 years by other operators and carriers in the province.”
The UCP government has been informed that the Helicopter Emergency Medical Services Review group has been asked to give this situation top priority for review and to find a solution to this crisis that HALO and southern Albertans find themselves facing, added Barnes.
A letter was sent to the UCP government on May 8 and Carolan confirmed on Saturday that response was received this past week from Shandro saying HALO’s funding is an Alberta Health Services responsibility and in the mean time to restart the helicopter review effective immediately and results by the end of the summer.
-With files from Gillian Slade, Medicine Hat News