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Willow Creek council supports HALO funding

LAWRENCE GLEASON, GAZETTE CONTRIBUTOR
The provincial government should recognize all air ambulance services in the province and treat them more equitably, MD of Willow Creek councillors said Wednesday.
Council recently reviewed a letter that came out of the recent meeting of mayors and reeves in southwestern Alberta, attended by Reeve Maryanne Sandberg.
The letter asked the provincial government to provide emergency funding for Helicopter Airlift Operation (HALO), an air ambulance service operating out of Medicine Hat, that has been denied provincial government funds and is now in danger of failing.
“The provincial government has point-blank said to them, ‘Find other sources of funds until Oct. 1’,” Sandberg said.
Sandberg said without a quick infusion of money the HALO could fold and the business providing the helicopter, Rangeland Helicopters of Medicine Hat, may be so heavily impacted it could be in danger of folding as well.
HALO provides daylight service to a 40,000 square kilometre area of southern Alberta and southwestern Saskatchewan.
Sandberg said HALO, a six-passenger Bell 206L-1 Long Ranger, has, as recently as within the last two months provided air rescue to a Fort Macleod-area rancher when STARS air ambulance could not make the trip.
Council voted unanimously to forward a letter to Premier Jason Kenney and Health Minister Tyler Shandor, urging them, before Oct. 1, to cover a $750,000 shortfall for HALO.
The letter from the mayors and reeves states HALO had been provided one-time funding of $1-million this year, while STARS air ambulance received $13-million for a new helicopter.
“In spite of some amazing public donations this summer they currently have a $750,000 shortfall between now and the next contract being signed,” said the letter provided by Reeve Sandberg from the Mayors and Reeves meeting.
The letter also asks the premier and health minister to commission an independent review of Alberta’s air medivac system.
Coun. Evan Berger, a former provincial cabinet minister for agriculture, said the province could “dip into their reserves and pay this out in a minute.”
“I think the provincial government has to sit down and take a look at this,” Coun. Glen Alm said. “We have STARS, HALO, HERO, and they all seem to be conflicting operations. They need to get together to cut down on some of these administration costs.”
HERO air medivac service serves the Fort McMurray area and is partially funded by the oil companies in that region with the MD of Wood Buffalo.
STARS covers most of Alberta as well as service into British Columbia and Saskatchewan with its air medevac services.
“All of these are important,” Sandberg said, adding the provincial government should be helping to fund all three to keep them operating.
“If they all support each other and cover the other one’s back, then the province really should be looking at this as a province-wide service,” Sandberg said.

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