+ RMA Rural Municipalities
of Alberta

Resolution 9-23S

Rural Fixed Wing Medivac Services

February 23, 2023
Expiry Date:
March 1, 2026
Active Status:
MD of Spirit River
4 - Northern
Emergency Services
Sent to Government
Vote Results:

WHEREAS rural Alberta is under-served by fixed wing medivac services; and

WHEREAS Alberta Health Services (AHS) has further  reduced fixed wing air ambulance services to three rural municipalities, and potentially more, throughout the winter seasons: and

WHEREAS these municipalities have maintained airports and runways for decades that have served fixed wing aircraft without incident; and

WHEREAS AHS has cited pilot inexperience as the rationale for eliminating fixed wing air medivac services to these and potentially other rural municipalities: and

WHEREAS AHS has further cited the need for municipalities to upgrade rural airports and runways at a huge cost to the municipality to compensate for the inadequacies of the contractors’ pilots: and

WHEREAS AHS claims that STARS Air Ambulance and ground transportation are suitable replacements for fixed wing service, and

WHEREAS many rural municipalities have a shortage of drivers to drive ground ambulance, resulting in extensive delays in rural patients accessing professional care, resulting in deaths and long-term health conditions; and

WHEREAS AHS has a contract with a service provider to provide fixed wing air ambulance services to rural municipalities year-round, and

WHEREAS the service provider is unable to provide adequately trained pilots to facilitate fixed wing medivac services ; and

WHEREAS the termination of rural fixed wing air ambulance services will result in deaths and long-term health issues for patients related to delays in accessing appropriate medical care:

Operative Clause:

THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the Rural Municipalities of Alberta (RMA) request that the Government of Alberta ensure that air ambulance service providers adhere to their existing contract and restore air ambulance service  to the three municipalities that have recently lost this service either by compelling the contractor to subcontract the air ambulance service to a contractor with appropriately skilled pilots; requiring the contractor to train their existing pilots to achieve industry standards,  or by providing funding to municipalities to upgrade  airports to meet the new standard required for lower skilled pilots; and

FURTHER BE IT RESOLVED that the RMA request that the Government of Alberta compel Alberta Health Services (AHS) to provide any airport slated for discontinuance of any AHS transportation services a detailed analysis of necessary changes (within reason and based on industry standards) required to be made by the airport and a commitment that if those changes are completed, full transportation services will be reinstated.

Member Background:

Rural municipalities have seen a steady decline in health services in our communities. Several municipalities have been compelled to build medical centers in order to attract and retain physicians in their region.

Rural municipal health centers lack not only physicians but also all levels of nurses, physiotherapists, massage therapists, health care aides, and all other forms of healthcare professions.

Rural municipal health centers face regular closures of their emergency, most often on weekends but also for extended periods, due to a lack of health care professionals.

Rural emergency response teams are frequently absent or short staffed, making ground ambulances unavailable until a driver can be located in a neighboring town or city, further delaying patient care.

Rural fire departments, most often staffed by volunteers, are facing challenges in getting new recruits,  resulting in skeleton crews. As these volunteers are frequently the first responder to vehicular accidents, and can be the only responder, transportation of patients can be left in their hands.

Reliance of STARS Air Ambulance is dependent on their availability, and is restricted greatly dependent on weather.

AHS’s recent announcement to cease fixed wing air ambulance for the Spirit River, Ponoka and Two Hills airports based on pilot inexperience, is one more way that AHS is not providing equitable and quality healthcare to rural Albertans.

Fixed wing medivac services have been serving these municipalities for decades with no hint of this service being removed.

In 2017, AHS negotiated a new contract for fixed wing air service across the province with predominately one company. At that time, there was discussion that this would force competing service providers out of business and with that a loss of skilled pilots. This is the situation AHS faces and with that municipalities and their ratepayers are paying the price.

In November of 2022, the Town of Spirit River received a telephone call from AHS advising that the Spirit River Airport’s fixed wing medivac service is suspended for the winter and every winter moving forward. Simultaneously the towns of Ponoka and Two Hills received similar correspondence.

Reasons cited for the discontinuance were: pilot inexperience, length and width of the runway, and concerns with response times when alerting the airport of an incoming flight. The Town was further advised that the contractor’s pilots were not as experienced and therefore were apprehensive about landing in Spirit River in the winter.

The Municipal District of Spirit River took a lead role in advocating for a resolution to this and the region’s ratepayers’ lives are at risk. Letters were written to the Premier, ministers Copping, Jean and Loewen as well as AHS CEO Dr. John Cowell.

The MD has also put in a FOIP request for a copy of the contract between the fixed wing air ambulance provider and AHS. We have not yet received that.

Ministers, and AHS response to-date has been that pilot safety is a priority and rural municipalities continue to receive quality healthcare through STARS and ground ambulance.

It should be noted numerous municipalities and organizations have also written letters.

Airports without commercial flights have few if any grants available to sustain, repair or expand expensive runways and infrastructure. If the Province is changing the requirements needed by rural airports to benefit from fixed wing air ambulance, the province needs to develop funding for municipal airports so they can sustain AHS medivac service.

RMA Background:

RMA has no active resolutions directly related to this issue.

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