By Trevor Busch
With HALO Air Ambulance in serious need of $750,000 in bridge funding to allow them to continue operations, the Town of Taber is throwing their support behind the organization in seeking a cash infusion from the province.
Correspondence was received from the Mayors and Reeves of Southern Alberta, in which a request was made for municipalities to add their voices to advocating and supporting HALO and forwarding that support to Premier Jason Kenney and Minister of Health Tyler Shandro concerning the program and its funding model.
“The next contract for HALO is due October 1, We wish to see that negotiation completed with a proper, sustainable, ongoing compensation component at the centre of the agreement,” reads an excerpt from the suggested form letter submitted to town council by the Mayors and Reeves of Southern Alberta, at council’s Sept. 9 meeting. “In the meantime, in spite of record public fundraising efforts, HALO has a serious shortfall to get them to that new contract and will require some bridge funding to clear up some debt and keep them operating. Without it, there is a very real chance they will shut down.”
HALO Air Ambulance is a medevac helicopter service that operates in southern Alberta and southwestern Saskatchewan. Coun. Joe Strojwas sought information regarding the organization’s capabilities in comparison to other air ambulance services.
“I was hoping there would be some information in HALO’s presentation as far as their abilities to provide 24-7 service. With the helicopter now, are they equipped with night vision? Can they fly 24-7?”
Mayor Andrew Prokop explained the funding shortfall arose for HALO after the rollout of a new helicopter for the service.
“I don’t know about night vision. It’s a twin-engined chopper, compared to the single engine they were using. It was close to a $3 million bill for that chopper. And that’s the difference in their budget shortfall.”
Strojwas appeared reluctant to offer support for an air ambulance that he believes provides a less comprehensive service to southern Alberta in comparison to STARS (Shock Trauma Air Rescue Service) based in Calgary.
“I understand that, and I know they provide a great service, and something that’s required. I’m just curious whether or not they can service 24-7, because if we’re going to fund — they’re asking for money from all of these people — can they fly 24-7 like STARS can? Do we need a second service that can only fly during the daytime hours? That’s my concern with this, because it certainly inhibits them from getting that kind of money if they can’t fly at night.”
Coun. Louie Tams confirmed HALO only operates for “extended daylight operating hours.”
“So that means they can only operate in the daytime then,” said Strojwas. “I’m just wondering then, because we still have to rely on STARS to cover this area if something happens at nighttime. STARS can, but they have to refuel.”
Following discussion, council voted unanimously to authorize a letter of support and motion to be sent to the Honourable Jason Kenney, Premier of the Province of Alberta, and the Honourable Tyler Shandro, Minister of Health for the Province of Alberta.
“The Town of Taber urges the Alberta government to provide the bridge funding of $750,000 to carry HALO through to the next contract, and further calls on the government to commission an independent review of the Helicopter EMS system in Alberta,” reads another excerpt from the letter. “This review should engage the public and stakeholders such as industry and municipalities in all parts of the province. Obviously, AHS and current service providers are stakeholders too and need to be part of the review but should not drive it so that a fresh look at the situation can be achieved.”
According to the organization’s website, HALO has been dispatched on over 550 missions since its inception in July 2007. HALO is funded exclusively through the donations of private individuals and corporate partners.