Helipad’s possible closure mobilizes Sundre residents

It wasn’t just the possible closure of the Sundre helipad that drew more than 300 people to the Sundre Community Centre Tuesday night.

It wasn’t just the possible closure of the Sundre helipad that drew more than 300 people to the Sundre Community Centre Tuesday night.

Many attendees fear their local hospital might close, others were concerned about a freeze on hiring of medical staff and it seemed everyone was upset about not being consulted about changes going on to the health care system in their community.

Helipads in eight communities, including Sundre, were shut down June 30. The helipads are set to open again, at least until the fall, starting today.

The most recent issue comes just two months after a leaked memo suggesting the possible downgrade or closure of rural hospitals, of which Sundre was one.

“My concerns stem from how Alberta Health Services is making decisions that directly impact myself, my coworkers, my community and my patients without any openness or forewarning,” said Dr. Vesta Michelle Warren, who has been a doctor in Sundre for 10 years.

“We are finding out about major decisions that directly impact on my ability to care properly for patients third hand, through e-mail or today through…the media.”

She said the Alberta Health Services Board doesn’t talk about closures, but they do talk about restructuring and centralization.

“So I think everybody acknowledges that at some point there is going to be loss of services to communities of services that they currently have,” she said.

The meeting was organized by the Sundre and District Chamber of Commerce and the Town of Sundre and had a panel with representatives from Sundre, Mountain View County, the Sundre and District Chamber of Commerce and STARS, as well as Rocky Mountain House MLA Ty Lund.

Dave Brown, who lives on a ranch between Sundre and Caroline, was concerned about the possible loss of the helipad because he said agricultural people do one of the most dangerous professions.

He said Premier Stelmach has not given him much confidence there will be much consultation on anything. He said he has been a Conservative all of his life, but he has lost confidence in the Conservative government at this time. “We’ve got to stay together as a community and show our strength,” Brown said.

Sundre Mayor Roy Cummings said he will be drafting a letter to the premier asking that he explain the deficiencies to the helipad and that town council and residents be given assurance they will be consulted before any other decisions are made.

No Alberta Health Services representatives were at the Sundre meeting. Kerry Bales, Alberta Health Services vice president for the Central Zone, spoke to the Advocate beforehand. He said the helipad standards were set by Transport Canada.

Bales said after working with Transport Canada and securing an extension the helipads will re-open today. He said the extension will allow Alberta Health Services to look at the issue indepth and engage with some of the communities that could be impacted. He said the extension doesn’t come with a deadline, but it is expected the review will be finished by the fall. Asked if the helipads could be closed at that point, he agreed that some could still close.