HALO Air Ambulance, a southern Alberta based medical service, is in dire straits after the government has made it abundantly clear they wish not to invest much-needed funding for continual operations.
HALO CEO Paul Carolan estimates the fee-for-service model currently used only accounts for less than 10 per cent of their annual budget, leaving a large amount up to ‘the backs of everyday Albertans’.
“I try to be very, very clear about this. The most important message we need to get out is while COVID-19 might be the catalyst for this, it is not the cause. The cause is the lack of the provincial government’s willingness to fund appropriately for essential services in southern Alberta,” said Carolan.
On Fri. May 8, 2020, HALO contacted Premier Kenney’s office to make it clear that without an immediate Government of Alberta investment they would have to fold the medevac program and scale back operations to a single-engine helicopter effective June 1, 2020.
“The problem with that model is that the most inexpensive part of the program is the flying,” said Carolan.
“So the government is getting the benefit of having an exclusive asset available whenever they need it and only paying when they use it. The most expensive part of our program is the dedicated availability of the service.”
HALO covers remote service areas in the east central region like Special Areas and MD of Acadia including Buffalo, Jenner, Oyen, Acadia Valley, Empress, Big Stone, Wardlow, Finnegan, Iddesleigh, etc. as well as Lethbridge, Brooks and Medicine Hat.
Carolan noted that the main reason they are needed, especially for service deserts such as the Special Areas is that when speaking with fire chiefs, their call can be a mere 10 miles away but it ends up being a 90-minute drive by ground because of the landscape like winding rivers and deep coulees which can become a life or death situation with that time being lost.
“We’ve been to calls in the Oyen, Jenner, Buffalo, Special Areas. The difference between us and a program like STARS coming out of Calgary is that being located regionally means that we maximize every ounce of fuel we have because we are always travelling in the direction of the goal post right so when we leave Medicine Hat for Oyen we can get to the Foothills Hospital in Calgary on one tank of fuel,” said the CEO.
“So we don’t have to wait for a refuel, we don’t have to wait for an unload or reload of a patient. We don’t have to deal with any of those delays and quite frankly if you’re using a helicopter, those minutes really matter.”
Since their inception in 2007, the company has never had sustained funding from the province other than a restricted $1 million grant for the purchase of their main twin-engine helicopter, HALO 1.
Currently, there are ambulance services as well as two helicopters at their disposal but typically the HALO 1 is used as it is stronger, larger and more versatile in emergency situations.
Late last week, members of the HALO Board of Directors held an emergency meeting to discuss the financial forecast of the program.
Following a record-setting fund development year in 2019, the arrival of the pandemic earlier this year had an immediate impact on their fundraising program.
“Other air ambulance programs have benefitted from years of Government of Alberta support, allowing them to build financial reserves that can be drawn upon during these extraordinary times. HALO has no such reserves,” stated Carolan.
The province has not addressed the situation at this time.