HALO about to be grounded

Prairie Post (West Edition) - - Front Page - BY GIL­LIAN SLADE AL­BERTA NEWS­PA­PER GROUP

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.

File photo

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