HALO about to be grounded
Within two weeks HALO Air Ambulance will scale back its operations and may be forced to cease operating completely by July 1.
CEO Paul Carolan says it was an incredibly hard decision.
“If we thought there was any hope we wouldn’t have had to take this route,” said Carolan.
Many people have invested deeply in this program for almost 15 years and they deserved to know the prognosis, said Carolan.
For years HALO has asked for funding to cover operational expenses while it continued to raise the balance through donations and fundraising campaigns. The former PC government did not provide funding. The NDP provided a one-time grant of about $1 million.
Drew Barnes, MLA for Cypress-Medicine Hat, says he’s advocated for HALO funding for eight years. Within days of the UCP’s election a year ago he mentioned funding as one of the important steps for the government.
A week ago HALO was in contact with Premier Jason Kenney’s office to explain the situation and warn of the repercussions. Carolan says there has been no response.
Starting June 1 HALO will cease operating the twin-engine helicopter, using only the single-engine machine instead. This will limit operations to some extent. All HALO medevac operations will end July 1 unless the government provides funding.
Forty Mile County Reeve Steve Wikkerink says the news is “very disappointing.”
For the government to continue to ignore what HALO is doing for southern Alberta makes residents in this region feel like “second-rate citizens,” said Wikkerink.
“Why are the lives in southern Alberta not as important as those in central Alberta?”
Michaela Glasgo, MLA for Brooks-Medicine Hat, says, it’s imperative that southern Alberta has access to timely ambulatory services and says she will continue to advocate for equitable access.
Glasgo says Health Minister Tyler Shandro has directed AHS to immediately restart the Helicopter Emergency Medical Services (HEMS) review.
Barnes says he talked with Shandro on Thursday and it is unlikely there will be any support from government until the review is completed in late summer. He says he has been promised there will be “no gaps in service” to the people of this area.
Carolan says the helicopter has to be ready and available for an emergency whether those calls are few or many. HALO currently only gets paid a fee for the flights it is allowed to carry out. He makes the point that there is a cost to providing fire services available 24/7 in a community even though the service may not be required every day.
If HALO closes, helicopter medevac could be covered by STARS out of Calgary but there is the time a flight would take to come from there, said Carolan. There is currently only one STARS helicopter in Calgary and if it was down here, Calgary would be uncovered.
Barnes says he is grateful for what HALO has done all these years and hopes there is some way for them to continue to operate.