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Manitoba broke its own rules with STARS contract: auditor general

WINNIPEG – When a 10-year contract with the Shock Trauma Air Rescue Society, or STARS, was signed, it was hailed as a service that would save lives, but the air ambulance has hit some turbulence in Manitoba.

Auditor general Carol Bellringer’s annual report says the province broke its own rules by not putting the air ambulance contract out to tender, even though it is required by law.

Value for the service was also questioned as costs per mission were 231 per cent to 618 per cent higher than programs in other provinces.

“It’s not always so easy to plan in advance but if you want to keep your eye on the bottom line and keep those dollars under control you got to do it,” Bellringer said. “Am I panicking about it? No. Am I concerned? Absolutely.”

STARS told Global News the cost per mission is significantly higher in Manitoba because the service is used as much as 10 times more frequently in Alberta and Saskatchewan.

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STARS said it needs to be better integrated into Manitoba’s EMS system so it’s used more effectively.

Quality of patient care was also questioned. STARS resumed providing services this month after is was shut down for three months following a number of critical incidents, including one in which a young boy sustained brain damage because he didn’t receive enough oxygen during a flight.

Critics said the rush to sign STARS was nothing more than a way for the Selinger government to score political points in the 2011 provincial election.

“I’m actually really surprised how the government has failed in this STARS contract,” said Myrna Drieger, the Progressive Conservative health critic. “I think it’s a scathing indictment of gross NDP mismanagement.”

The province stood by its decision, saying if the program had been put to tender, it would have taken up to two years longer to get in the air.

Having the service right after the 2011 flood was essential, provincial officials said.

“Policies do allow you to sole source a contract in situations where you believe there isn’t someone else who could provide the service and where there is an urgency to do it,” said Finance Minister Jennifer Howard.

The auditor general said the situation under which the STARS contract was awarded didn’t meet those requirements.

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