Southern Alberta air ambulance operation in jeopardy

MEDICINE HAT — More than 50 communities in southeastern Alberta could lose air ambulance service as soon as next month.

MEDICINE HAT — More than 50 communities in southeastern Alberta could lose air ambulance service as soon as next month.

The Southern Alberta MedicAir Society says that’s because fundraising shortfalls may force it to ground its helicopter airlift operation, also known as HALO.

Society chairman Gerry Gaede says even with generous community and corporate sponsors, MedicAir was unable to secure the big donors they were hoping for.

The service operates in the former Palliser Health Region, which includes Medicine Hat, Brooks, Foremost and Canadian Forces Base Suffield.

Since it started up in July 2007, the service has responded to approximately 60 emergency situations in southern Alberta.

However, the cost to operate it is $70,000 a month because, like a fire station, the helicopter must be ready to respond at all times.

Unlike helicopters operated by the Alberta Shock Trauma Air Rescue Society, also known as STARS, the southern Alberta service is not funded by the provincial government.

The province pays STARS approximately $4 million each year and that organization raises an additional $32 million annually.

Gaede says his society has had only moderate success in educating the public about the difference between the two groups.

“I always say STARS does great things for 90 per cent of the province but we happen to live in the 10 per cent where they don’t,” said Jodi Churla, executive director of the MedicAir.

STARS is only dispatched to an incident if they can reach the area faster than a ground crew.

Not only would STARS face time constraints responding to a call in southern Alberta, but they do not have a long-range helicopter and would be unable to make the trip without having to stop and refuel.

This summer has seen a number of horrific highway accidents and it’s sad to know the group capable of providing fast medical response is now in jeopardy, Churla added.

If HALO services are discontinued, residents in the southern Alberta corner will again be serviced strictly by ground ambulance.

“It’s unfortunate that there isn’t government funding because it doesn’t matter what it is, we seem to be the forgotten corner,” said Churla.

(Medicine Hat News)

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