November 14th, 2019

No budget angel for HALO

By JEREMY APPEL on November 9, 2019.

SUBMITTED PHOTO
A HALO helicopter air ambulance waits on the helipad at Medicine Hat Regional Hospital.

jappel@medicinehatnews.com@MHNJeremyAppel

HALO is reverting to a fee-for-service funding model after not receiving a stable source of funding in the October provincial budget.

Paul Carolan, HALO’s director of fundraising, told the News the air ambulance service was “extremely optimistic” about receiving base funding in the budget, but it didn’t come to fruition.

HALO was funded under a fee-for-service model from Alberta Health Services “for a very short period of time” until it received a one-time $1 million grant at the beginning of 2019, Carolan explained.

The fee-for-service model allows HALO to invoice AHS each time its helicopter is dispatched for a partial reimbursement.

Carolan says HALO’s major expenses are incurred by having its services at the ready between calls. The rest of its funds are acquired through donations and fundraising events.

“While provincial funding is a top priority for us and, we believe, necessary, the program has been in existence in spite of that for the last 13 years,” he said.

HALO is in “ongoing” discussions with AHS about receiving “sustained funding,” but no commitments have been made, Carolan said.

“In a perfect world, they would provide us with a specific amount of money on an annual basis for a contractual term, so that we know that we have that funding stream coming in,” he said. “That would allow us to plan strategically where we need to find the balance.”

The one-time grant was awarded for the purchase of a new twin-engine BK-117 helicopter, which increased HALO’s annual budget “drastically” to $2.6 million this year, according to Carolan.

“We believe we provide an essential service and an essential service should be funded accordingly.”

Cypress-Medicine Hat UCP MLA Drew Barnes agrees HALO needs a more stable source of funding, reiterating his past call for it to receive the same amount of dollars as STARS.

“The fee-for-service method doesn’t work because the main cost for HALO is the standby time – having the helicopter sitting and ready to go,” he said, calling HALO “an extremely efficient program.”

Barnes says he’s been working to boost HALO’s funding and will continue to bring HALO up to his caucus peers.

“I’ve asked questions in question period. I’ve sent letters. I’ve talked to the ministers. I’ve taken HALO people to the cabinet,” he said. “They’re fully aware of how important HALO is.”

Barnes says Alberta Health Services is launching a review into air ambulance programs, which includes STARS and HALO, as well as HERO in the Wood Buffalo area.

“HERO is similar to HALO where they don’t get the same level of funding,” he said.

Barnes expects the review to take place in the spring – in time for the government’s next budget

“I just hope that the UCP cabinet sees this and sees that they need to be fair to us before the good donors and the great people at HALO can continue doing what they do,” he said.

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