Thursday, September 15, 2016

Town and MD of Pincher Creek councils hear STARS appeal

STARS AW139 lands at Pincher Creek Municipal Airport
T. Lucas file photo

Toni Lucas and Christian Davis - Senior Municipal Relations Liaison for STARS (Shock Trauma Air Rescue Service) Glenda Farnden appeared as a delegation at the Pincher Creek Town council meeting on Monday, September 12, and again as a delegation before the MD of Pincher Creek No. 9 council the next day.  Farnden said STARS has had a reduction of funding from provincial government commitments and from donations by the oil and gas sector. "We have really tightened our belts to keep everything in check, as much as we can," she told Town council.  According to Farnden STARS has 6 bases in three provinces. "Saving time saves lives," said Farnden. "We must be aware of many diverse situations which we have respond to, day or night."

"A lot of people don't know that our medical crew, they are internationally acclaimed," Farnden said.  Not only for their critical care skills, but for their intubation skills," which help the patient breathe. She said they now carry universal blood on board. "Time is everything in a situation. To get that patient to the hospital, and now start that procedure and be giving them blood on route, and buy them that much more time."  Another tool she mentioned is not strictly medical.  The helicopters are fitted with night vision wear so the crews can respond day or night.

According to Farnden, government funding was once at 24% due to a secondary additional agreement. That agreement has since expired and now STARS is back to their prior government funding level of 21%. "That leaves 79% for fundraising now."  As for what it costs to the patient she said, "If you are ever flown by STARS, you will not receive an bill for services...  It's up to all of us as Albertans that we can find other ways that we can  continue to have sustainability for all of us."

Farnden said there are over 50 municipalities across Alberta donating a per capita amount. She had another suggestion based on how some municipalities have chosen to donate funds. "Instead of an annual year-to-year ask, they are putting their commitment into their protective services budget as a standing motion,"  She explained it aids STARS sustainability to be able to rely on a specific amount when calculating their annual budgets, and also allows a municipality to include it as a specific amount in their own annual budgets. She provided a study of a six year mission breakdown which showed 14 to 15 missions per year for the Town and MD of Pincher Creek.  She estimated STARS annually provides $80-90 thousand dollars of value in services to the Pincher Creek and area. To Town council she said, "My request to you is actually covering a little over one mission, per year."

At the MD presentation Reeve Brian Hammond asked further about including STARS as a line item in the annual protective services budget, and what other communities contribute.  Fardnen said, "The majority are giving at the $2.00/capita rate,"  She explained communities range from $2 to $65 per capita for contributions.

Both the MD and Town councils previously decided to donate $2.00 per capita to STARS for 2016.

MD councillor Quentin Stevick had a few concerns.  STARS currently have BK-117 helicopters which they have used for 31 years and now also have larger AW139 helicopters that can fly farther, faster, and can accommodate two critical care patients at one time. The larger AW139's have issues with flying in erratic or high wind conditions and require a larger landing area than the BK-117 models. Councillor Stevick  said, "Now that you have gone to the bigger helicopter we are having problems at the hospital getting that bigger helicopter of yours."   The AW139 models cannot land at the current hospital helipad so patients being transported by it are transferred to the Pincher Creek Municipal Airport first.  Another issue Stevick mentioned  was a specific time when a fixed-wing transport was expected to arrive at Pincher Creek Airport (which is in the MD) but didn't, during a winter storm.  The runway was plowed out at the airport for a safe landing, however ultimately a helicopter was sent which could land at the hospital.  This meant that a crew on holiday overtime was paid for a solution that was ultimately unused. "If they had a little better working relationship with us, we wouldn't have to spend the time and money on a transfer from the hospital to the airport... We could literally roll them out the door of the hospital onto a helicopter."  Farnden clarified that STARS does not have any fixed wing transports, that those are owned by Alberta Health Services, and 911 would have dispatched the fixed-wing aircraft Stevick mentioned.  "The majority of the missions are still the BK,"  she told MD council, estimating approximately two thirds of the missions flown to the Pincher Creek area are using the smaller BK-117 helicopter which is capable of landing at the hospital. "We are still looking at what would best serve your area."

After her presentation to Town council Mayor Don Anderberg thanked Farnden and asked her to elaborate about the drop in the provincial government funding. Farnden explained there was a standing agreement that was in place when there were two bases in Alberta, and the provincial government at the time supplemented their standing 7 million dollar commitment with an additional 3 million dollars to help support a third base which has been in place for ten years in Grand Prairie. "That (agreement) expired in 2015, and the new government did not renew that particular additional affiliation agreement, but they are still recognizing the previous agreement that had been in place."

Farnden said part of why they are reaching out to municipalities is the service represents Albertans, and municipalities represents Albertans. "Each year for us, we see an increase each year in call volume between 6 to 10 percent."

Mayor Anderberg asked for additional information, including which provincial government ministries STARS was represented under through the mentioned agreements. He said council as a whole would have to discuss the situation further. "My feeling is we should be getting that information and actually talking with the Minister or Ministers responsible for this." He continued,  "The other side of the coin is that if the province isn't funding this... if the funding doesn't meet the need there will be a reduction in service. Or the municipalities such as the Town of Pincher Creek are going to have to take a bigger step up." Farnden said she sees funding from both municipalities and the province being required. Anderberg said, "If the province was at 10 million I would really like an answer as to why they are now at 7 (million)." He thanked Farnden for her presentation, and explained they would be looking at her request during a future council meeting.

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