Southern Alberta Mayors and Reeves is calling on Premier Jason Kenney and Health Minister Tyler Shandro to provide ongoing funding for HALO, as well as provide $750,000 in bridge funding to cover operating costs until the current contract expires on Oct. 1 after passing the motion at a recent meeting held in Taber.
“They strongly and unanimously support this and recognize this service is necessary to provide to our residents,” said Gordon Reynolds, mayor of Bow Island and chair of Southeast Mayors and Reeves.
Lorne Hickey, reeve for Lethbridge County is chair for Southwest Mayors and Reeves.
Reynolds said the meeting included a presentation by representatives from HALO.
“Part of the discussion was a presentation from HALO on what they do and their current financial situation,” he said.
HALO, in its 12 years of operation, did not receive any funding from provincial government until early this year when it received a one-time grant of $1,000,000. That agreement stipulated that HALO acquire a twin-engine helicopter. In 2018, HALO purchased a BK-117 twin-engine helicopter to meet those stipulations.
Previously, the annual budget for operating HALO 1, the single engine helicopter, was approximately $850,000. For the twin-engine helicopter, those costs jump up to $2.6 million. The one-time grant covered about 42 percent. The rest of the money comes from fundraising, donations, and sponsorships, which the HALO operation has relied on since its beginning more than a dozen years ago.
“The operating costs of this helicopter, including the extended daylight hours it is allowed to fly, are certainly higher than the original machine, but it is more effective, and HALO’s budget is still considerably lower than anybody else,” reads a statement in a media release sent by Southern Alberta Mayors and Reeves last week.
The HALO coverage area extends more than 50,000 kilometres and includes southern Alberta to west of Fort Macleod and to west of Swift Current on the east. It’s range can include part of Montana on the south to north of Sedalia. Southern Alberta Mayors and Reeves has representation from all municipalities in the southern portion of the province and most of the municipalities in Southern Alberta Mayors and Reeves would have access to HALO services.
As the HALO coverage area has expanded since the incorporation of the BK-117, awareness is growing in the southwest corner of the province, as well.
“There’s no doubt HALO can service the SW quickly,” said Reynolds, adding, “The SE group has been advocating on behalf of HALO for years. Awareness in the SW started a couple of years ago.”
The public has been very supportive of the medical rescue helicopter service that can access remote areas more quickly than ground ambulance and have been showing their support through donations and at fundraising events.
“There is very strong support from our ratepayers by way of their donations,” said Reynolds.
In a second motion at the meeting, Southern Alberta Mayors and Reeves is calling on the Province to conduct an independent review of the overall Helicopter EMS system in Alberta, including consultations with the public and stakeholders, including municipalities.
“The province needs to take this model for the whole province; the system we have in place here and we would like to see a review of the province wide system. And, the stakeholders, public, and industries all need to have a say in this,” said Reynolds. “We believe HALO is able to provide a very effective system.”