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‘HALO is on life-support’: Medicine Hat-based air ambulance program sounds alarm to province

HALO Air Ambulance sends funding plea to Alberta government
WATCH ABOVE: HALO Air Ambulance has sent an urgent letter to the province, saying that without an investment from the government, the medevac program won’t survive through the summer. Danica Ferris has more.

HALO Air Ambulance is sounding the alarm on the future of its southern Alberta medevac program, issuing a funding plea to the Alberta government.

Operating out of Medicine Hat, the service has completed about 750 missions since it was established in 2007., according to HALO CEO Paul Carolan.

“We’ve done this for almost 15 years, and we’ve done it on the backs of everyday Albertans… the province really needs to do their job here,” Carolan said.

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Since its inception, HALO has relied solely on public and private donations to fund its operations. Meanwhile, the province has funded similar services like Calgary-based STARS Air Ambulance.

In a plea issued to Premier Jason Kenney’s office on May 8, HALO said the COVID-19 pandemic had decimated its ability to fundraise, creating an urgent cash crunch.

READ MORE: HALO Air Ambulance calls on province for funding to keep program in-flight

“Certainly COVID-19 is the catalyst for this annoucement… but it’s not the cause,” said Carolan.

“The cause is a lack of provincial investment in an essential service in southern Alberta, basically since the beginnings of our program.”

Carolan said HALO has asked the province to fully fund its current budget, which is roughly $3 million a year, or $250,000 a month.

A news release from HALO on Thursday morning outlined what the service said would happen if it didn’t receive an immediate investment from the province:

  • HALO will be forced to scale back operations to a single-engine helicopter effective June 1, 2020
  • HALO will provide limited medevac operations with a single-engine helicopter for a period of 30 days
  • All HALO medevac operations will cease July 1, 2020
  • A public relations campaign attempting to save the HALO program will be immediately undertaken. “This campaign will highlight the incredible successes of the program, the dedicated people that have volunteered tirelessly to keep it in service and the far-reaching and unwavering local community support.”

Carolan said if HALO was forced to reduce service to only a single-engine helicopter, it would reduce the program’s emergency response capacity by about 80 per cent.

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“If there’s no investment or no meaningful dialogue by July 1, we’re going to have to shut down completely,” he said.

On Thursday afternoon, the Municipal District of Taber backed HALO’s plea for help from the provincial government.

In a news release from the office of Reeve Merril Harris, the M.D. of Taber is asking the Alberta government to “step up to the plate” and fund HALO, as it does STARS and HERO, a helicopter rescue operation based in Fort McMurray.

Harris said the remote, rural areas surrounding Taber will suffer without HALO, as Calgary-based STARS isn’t able to service the areas south and east of the M.D., including the County of 40 Mile, Cypress County and the Medicine Hat area, without stopping to refuel.

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“It would be a real shame for us, and especially for the counties south and east of us,” Harris said. “That is their only chance of having a helicopter come in and pick somebody up from an accident.”

READ MORE: Crash site to hospital in 14 minutes: How HALO helicopters are saving and changing lives in southern Alberta

The office of Health Minister Tyler Shandro responded to a request for comment on the matter late Thursday afternoon.

“We recognize the importance of effective air ambulance service in the province,” the statement reads. “AHS provides fee-for-service payments to HALO, in addition to a $1-million capital grant provided last year.

“We have replied to HALO’s letter, and are fast-tracking a review of province-wide helicopter ambulance services.”