By Medicine Hat News on February 23, 2021.
HALO Air Ambulance has risen to the challenges that COVID-19 imposed and is in a strong position now, says the chief operating officer.
“We’re in the best position we’ve ever been in at this time of year looking forward,” said Paul Carolan, CEO for HALO.
HALO is providing full service with a twin engine helicopter.
In May last year, HALO, the helicopter air ambulance service based in Medicine Hat and covering this region of the province, announced it was facing the possibility of closing its operation on July 1 due to lack of funding from the provincial government.
Many community fundraising initiatives were launched and in spite of COVID challenges there has been tremendous support, said Carolan. The community has a large sense of “ownership and connection” that may not have been as evident if HALO had been wholly funded by the government during this time.
HALO’s biggest financial supporters have traditionally been the oil and gas industry plus farmers and ranchers, said Carolan. The sentiment being if they ever needed the service in an emergency they wanted to know it would be there.
The oil and gas industry has been struggling and Carolan says he is “painfully aware” of the impact that COVID has had on the economy.
Traditional HALO fundraisers have had to be changed or delayed but recently about $50,000 was raised from the sale of HALO calendars.
The annual HALO grow crop also took place. Each spring, land is provided, seed and fertilizer are donated with farmers providing time and equipment to plant and later harvest a crop, with the money going to HALO.
Carolan says some other farmers have now spontaneously approached HALO about expanding this. He says there are farmers who would like to grow a crop for HALO on a portion of their own land and donate the money from the crop harvested to HALO.
“It’s very special,” said Carolan.
HALO is also still working with the provincial government to secure funding rather than only depending on donations. Understandably COVID-19 has dominated the attention for Alberta Health and that of Minister of Health Tyler Shandro, said Carolan. However there has been dialogue with Shandro’s office as recently as December.
A review of Helicopter Emergency Medical Services was submitted to Shandro last year but he requested clarification and additional information on certain aspects, said Carolan who believes HALO was “exceptionally well represented” in the review.
Providing helicopter air ambulance services throughout the pandemic required additional protocols.
Carolan says there was already an influenza protocol but this had to be enhanced for COVID. In the local HALO office most staff have been working from home and there are special protocols for physical distancing in the office for pilots. Additional measures also limit the interaction with anyone not directly involved in transferring or caring for the patient.
Enhanced cleaning of the aircraft whenever possible is done outside before the helicopter is returned to the hangar.
It has meant additional costs that HALO absorbs for extra cleaning supplies and personal protective equipment for staff.
Carolan says there has been “self imposed pressure to exceed the guidelines.
“I have extremely high expectations of our team,” he said.