WHEREAS the membership of the Rural Municipal Alberta requested that the province review the funding models for regional air ambulance through Resolution 14-19F: Provincial Funding for Regional Air Ambulance; and
WHEREAS the June 2021 Helicopter Emergency Medical Services (HEMS) report by Alberta Health identifies HEMS as an integral part of emergency medical services at a critical care level; and
WHEREAS locally and regionally operated air ambulance service complements ground ambulance, and is provided to central and northwestern Alberta by Shock Trauma Air Rescue Society (STARS) at a critical care level; to northeastern Alberta by the Helicopter Emergency Response Organization (HERO) at an advanced life support level from Fort McMurray; and to southeastern Alberta by the Helicopter Air Lift Operation (HALO) at an advanced life support or basic life support level from Medicine Hat; and
WHEREAS the Government of Alberta provides limited funding through Alberta Health Services to support locally or regionally operated air ambulance services, with any additional required support coming from municipalities and private and corporate donations; and
WHEREAS many municipalities contribute a significant amount of funding to support locally and regionally operated air ambulance services under the current funding model, despite the fact that emergency medical services are a provincial responsibility; and
WHEREAS HEMS providers have demonstrated a proven ability to raise funds to help support operations; and
WHEREAS more stable and sustainable funding of HEMS will support quality assurance and ongoing improvement, ensuring HEMS remains viable, safe and effective in alignment with a coherent provincial strategy for air and ground ambulance;
THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the Rural Municipalities of Alberta urge the Government of Alberta and Alberta Health Services to proceed with the development and implementation of necessary policy and standard changes towards further critical care integration across the EMS system, including consistently funding a minimum of 50 per cent of an air ambulance provider’s operating costs, as recommended in the Helicopter Emergency Medical Services report.
In recognition of the crucial life-saving service provided by STARS, the County of Grande Prairie has granted the organization approximately $2.75 million in community funding since 2007, including a five-year capital funding commitment of $500,000 during 2020-2024 to the STARS Fleet Renewal Campaign.
Municipalities across Alberta contribute just over $2 million annually to STARS’ capital and operational costs, with $1.2 million coming from municipalities in the North Zone.
The Government of Saskatchewan provides approximately half of the funding for STARS operations in Saskatchewan, with the other half provided by support from private and corporate donations, service clubs and municipalities.
In the attached presentation to the County of Grande Prairie Council in 2021, STARS identified that 80 per cent of its fiscal funding is attributable to fundraising efforts, in addition to the 20 per cent provided by Alberta Health Services. While their proven ability to raise funds to support operations is commendable, it is not sustainable, especially during the recent economic downturn. Operational data included in the presentation noted the added challenges of the pandemic, with one in five STARS missions being a COVID-19-related case.
Helicopter Emergency Medical Services (HEMS) is particularly vital in rural areas of Alberta where access to critical care is not always feasible using ground ambulance services.
An increase in provincial funding could contribute to an expanded service delivery to ensure equitable emergency response for all of Alberta’s rural residents inclusively and may reduce the need for ongoing municipal contributions.
14-19F: Provincial Funding for Regional Air Ambulance
THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the Rural Municipalities of Alberta request that the Government of Alberta provide funds to locally- and regionally-operated emergency response air ambulance services at the same ratio as Shock Trauma Air Rescue Society (STARS) funding;
FURTHER BE IT RESOLVED that the Government of Alberta commissions an independent review, which includes engagement with the public, industry stakeholders and municipalities acoss Alberta, of the helicopter emergency medical services system in Alberta.
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Alberta Health Services
On March 25, 2022, the Government of Alberta announced new funding to support the operations of STARS, as well as new funding for HERO and HALO on March 31, 2022. The announced funding is targeted to be 50% of the cost of operating helicopter air ambulance based for the services these agencies currently provide. The funding will follow along with the introduction of 5-year agreements that will be established between AHS and the providers.
AHS is currently working with STARS, HERO, and HALO individually to ensure funds are available during contract discussions.
The funding commitment for HALO and HERO from the Government of Alberta is welcome news and meets the intent of the resolution. RMA will continue to monitor the progress of the five-year agreements.
At this time, RMA assigns this resolution a status of Accepted.