Storm clouds are gathering and I’m not talking about the weather.
When we have a Conservative MLA — in this case Ty Lund of Rocky Mountain House — openly and vehemently incensed about actions by the provincial Tory government (of which he is a longtime member) we are left to wonder.
Does the right hand not know what the left hand is doing? Why is the local MLA the last to know that the Sundre Hospital helipad was being shut down July 1 by Alberta Health Services — and the Sundre mayor second last? Is Alberta Health Services, under the jurisdiction of Health Minister Ron Liepert, so powerful that it is insensitive to political repercussions of its decisions?
If Premier Ed Stelmach doesn’t know by now about messing with rural Alberta, he should. When rural hospital and health service is threatened, you have trouble not just on the doorstep, but in caucus. Internal dissatisfaction with the Stelmach government has just spilled into full public view.
Listen to what Lund told the Advocate on Friday about the sudden closure of the Sundre Hospital helipad: “I told the minister (Health Minister Ron Liepert) when I talked to him Wednesday, ‘Boy, you’ve got to find out who the idiot is who did this and give him a pink slip.’ ”
The helipad in Sundre is being closed for at least the summer while Alberta Health Service looks at upgrading it or shutting it permanently. Of course, the superboard has put itself in a quandary now. It will look like an “idiot” should September come and the helipad is simply reopened.
Lund went on the say that as a cost-saving measure, his subsequent discussions with STARS indicated that it would actually cost more now because an ambulance would have to be sent to the local airstrip where STARS must now land. “Any way you look at this, it makes no sense,” Lund added.
There’s also no sense in Alberta Health Services’ explanation for closing Sundre’s helipad, as well as seven others in Alberta. They don’t meet new federal regulations says the health superboard. Transport Canada said there are no new regulations.
STARS has been landing safely at these helipads for years. Last year, it landed 71 times at the eight helipads now closed.
The helipads were totally functional on June 30. On July 1, they were completely nonfunctional. Nothing’s changed except they are unavailable now for life-saving situations.
Amazing isn’t it that Alberta Health Services seems to be unaware STARS lands on remote fields, in the mountains, beside highways and rivers, or just about anywhere there isn’t such a thing as a formal helipad.
Any “idiot” should know, closing a helipad during the busy and injury-prone summer season is a poor decision, especially when the explanation is bogus.
It was less than two months ago when a doctor’s memo surfaced about the possible downgrading or closure of rural hospitals — including Sundre — in Central Alberta. The Conservatives couldn’t anesthetize that idea fast enough.
There are no plans to close any rural hospitals. And there would be public consultation should there come a time when hospital closures/downgrades are proposed. That’s supposed to somehow be comforting.
In Sundre, they were neither consulted nor even made aware of the closure of their hospital’s helipad.
There’s no comfort in that community today. A storm is brewing. Rightly so.
Mary-Ann Barr is Advocate assistant city editor. She can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 403-314-4332.