By Cal Braid
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
On Jan. 22, council heard from a representative of STARS (Shock Trauma Air Rescue Service), a critical care provider specialized in medical helicopter transport. Glenda Farnden, senior municipal relations liaison for STARS in Alberta and B.C., was seeking a financial partnership commitment from the Town. She told council that in 2025 the organization will celebrate its fortieth anniversary of serving Alberta and is currently undergoing a rebrand. “STARS is not who we were in the very beginning (1985). There’s been so much more in the latest technology, medical equipment, and we have a brand new fleet. So it was really an ideal time to take this forward for generations to come.”
STARS previously had an affiliation agreement for 20 per cent government funding with Alberta Health Services, but that agreement expired in 2020. The rescue service has since been on a year-to-year extension. In 2022, the agreement was bumped up to cover 50 per cent of operational costs. Stars has three bases–in Calgary, Edmonton and Grande Prairie–and each one runs about $10 million per year in operational costs. The costs of the dispatch centre, education, training, and administration are all additional to the combined $30 million for base operations. The organization is still operating on the extension, but is hoping to secure another 10-year affiliation agreement at 50 per cent funding.
Farnden said that STARS launched its annual lottery on Jan. 18; a lottery that nets roughly $10 million each year. “That still leaves us with $18 million a year that we fundraise through long-term, dedicated events like the Taber Charity Auction, who has been with us for decades. Long-term events like that are essential to our service, especially when the call demand continues to increase.” She said that STARS works with municipalities and receives annual support at fixed rates or per capita rates from more than 90 per cent of them. The per capita rate ranges from two dollars to 90 dollars, depending on the municipality. Over 50 per cent give more than a two dollar minimum, and provide STARS with over $2 million a year in municipal support. Municipalities that support STARS on a fixed rate are recognized with their municipal logo on one of the fleet’s helicopters.
Its emergency links centre responds to high-consequence emergencies and STARS has flown over 55,000 missions at no cost to the patients. “That is because of partnership,” she said. “A life is literally saved everyday.” Farnden welcomed the Town to join into a partnership that would ensure the sustainability of the rescue service. In a chart, she pointed out that Taber averages 11-12 helicopter missions per year–or one per month.
When questioned by Coun. Brewin about a map of partnering municipalities, Farnden explained her colour-coding system. He asked her why the M.D. of Taber was white, and she said white represented a non-supporting municipality. There were only a handful of white regions on the Alberta map. Before wrapping up, Coun. Bekkering said he was impressed that STARS has 10 helicopters, all paid for at $150 million each. “Where did that money come from?” he asked. Farnden said, “All levels of government were at the table.” The presentation made a strong case for STARS and the advanced level of medical expertise and efficiency that it operates at.