County comes through, more work to be done

A major announcement March 24 should be a major relief to those in the Southern Alberta who may need life-saving helicopter emergency medical services. 

Cypress County contributed a one time investment of a quarter of a million dollars and then added a new investment of $300,000 for three years to the HALO Air Ambulance (HALO). This was part of a proposed funding model which sees a partnership amongst the Government of Alberta, regional municipalities within the HALO response area, and the HALO Air Ambulance program with each partner providing approximately a third of the current three-million-dollar annual budget. 

In a phone interview, Paul Carolan, HALO CEO, says this proposal has gone over really well. 

“For the other regional municipalities within the HALO jurisdiction, there has been a very positive response with this first part of what was proposed; a lot of support behind the one-third, one-third, one-third model,” explains Carolan. “Cypress County is taking a leadership position as they have for a number of years, both financially as well as politically; they led the charge on it. Lots of really good feedback on that, in having these conversations with these (other) counties.”

“This investment represents our commitment to a fair and equitable funding model of the HALO Program. Over the past four years Cypress County has benefited from having HALO respond to over 30% of their annual calls for service within the county. Recognizing that, Council voted to contribute 30% of the proposed regional municipality third,” said Dan Hamilton, Cypress County Reeve in a statement. Cypress County averaged 34.5% of the HALO calls for service between 2018-2021. 

HALO prides itself as “the only life-saving helicopter medevac service that provides dedicated and faithful service to Southern Alberta, since 2007. Calls include air ambulance EMS calls, as well as calls for search and rescue, fire department support, law enforcement support, and disaster response. 

Carolan notes the conversation around sustained funding from municipal regional counties has been ongoing from near the end of 2019— early 2020. He adds that the March 24 announcement represented “hundreds if not thousands of hours of work by Cypress County council, Cypress Council administration and the HALO team. 

The biggest takeaway from this for Carolan is that it represents a vote of confidence by Cypress County for the HALO program and recognizes the contributions that HALO makes, not only to the county but to Southern Alberta as a whole in providing an essential lifesaving service. 

“This allows HALO to be more deliberate about the future, about fundraising, about our entire program because we now have a well established funding model in place that we think will serve Southern Alberta as a whole,” explains Carolan. “Out of respect for the (municipal and regional governments), Covid distracted everybody. Our grassroots funding in 2020 rallied very quickly. So I think between the demands on other municipalities and the fact that HALO had found a way to continue serving Southern Alberta based on the emergency funding, we were able to achieve that, (funding models) definitely fell to the backburner. This will reinitialize those conversations and we look forward to having them with other municipalities throughout the coming months. We will see if we can continue to build on this. This is step one I think; I think the other municipalities will see this as a positive as well.”

Having some guaranteed funding gives them a cushion and gives them an opportunity to build a more deliberate and potentially more creative gameplay when it comes to funding and fundraisers.  

“HALO has a track record of doing our part and always finding a way to make the program viable. We do that on an extremely efficient program delivery model,” adds Carolan. “Our administrative costs, our fundraising costs, our program delivery costs represent less than 8 per cent of our budget. We rely on our volunteer board of directors to govern the program so fundraising in the past has relied on them showing up to events and them coming up with events and promoting events. While that is still a factor and HALO will always be planning to do its part, it allows us to be strategic, not burning people out, make sure we are targeting the right types of fundraisers that are going to resonate with people… and also to diversify too so the pandemic forced us to diversify our fundraising model to include things like the lottery to include the things like on-line auctions. I think we have done that and just allows to be a little bit more deliberate, a little more thoughtful about our major fundraisers and continue the program that way.”

EMS type of calls are by far the highest per centage but they are getting other calls for service. He says this are starting to grow and they will do what it takes and whatever emergency services are needed: “By the community for the community.”

“HALO is committed to providing those support mechanisms for sure. Looking back 95 per cent of the calls are initiated by EMS and the remaining for other calls and even some of those five per cent are search and research may turn into EMS-type of situations,” he notes. “As the program develops and our continued commitment to the community  we serve we will probably see an increase in those other calls for service because it is just a different mindset to be able to provide that level of care.”

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