By Gillian Slade
Alberta Newspaper Group
As HALO’s agreement with the provincial government expires there is no word on a new one until after the provincial budget on Oct. 24.
“Conversations continue with the government, and the truth of the matter is we don’t expect any announcement until the provincial budget,” said Paul Carolan, HALO representative.
About three weeks ago, Dale Thacker, co-chair of HALO’s board of directors, said the helicopter emergency medical service was struggling to cover its operational costs until Oct. 1 when the agreement expired.
“It looks like we are going to be about $750,000 short,” said Thacker at the time.
Some funds and donations have come in recently. An unexpected donation of $10,000 came in around the time of a HALO Hangar event, he said.
“The program has always been the beneficiary of that sort of support,” said Carolan. “Those things trickle in and they make it possible for us to continue going.”
However, Carolan says, the income is still short of the operational budget required. There has always been a really good relationship with Rangeland Helicopters and local organizations and businesses that sponsor HALO.
“We don’t believe it’s reasonable to continue to expect to provide an essential service on the backs of Albertans and particularly with an economy like we’re in,” said Carolan.
HALO’s annual budget is $2.6 million with the BK-117 twin-engine helicopter. HALO is now able to transport patients directly to a Calgary hospital from the scene of an accident if required.
Previously Thacker has said HALO is looking for a funding model similar to the one HERO has, which operates out of Fort McMurray, where two thirds of the operating cost is covered by government funding.
Drew Barnes, MLA for Cypress-Medicine Hat, said recently he feels “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.”
There was a recent emergency call that HALO responded to with not only the BK-117 twin-engine helicopter but the single-engine helicopter HALO used to use as well.
“The twin-engine was already on a mission and our local EMS said they needed to get to that scene,” said Carolan. “So we decided quickly, without any consideration for any additional financial support from government, that it was the right thing to do.”
Carolan estimates 99 per cent of the calls are responded to with the BK-117. He says the single-engine helicopter is not permanently leased to HALO by Rangeland Helicopters and does not contribute at all to HALO’s budget.
In January this year Sarah Hoffman, minister of health with the NDP government at the time, announced a one-time grant of $1 million to help meet HALO’s operating budget. 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.
Note: A sentence referencing a service from the government has been removed from this story. HALO representatives tell the News the fee hasn’t been collected since January.