The ‘Golden Hour’ is a principle that states, if a casualty can be safely transported to a primary care facility, hospital, within an hour of a serious incident, their odds of survival are drastically increased.

This ‘Golden Hour’ was an especially important factor when I found myself in the Iraq desert. Operating some distance from the nearest field hospital. Every move was planned with a contingency for extracting a casualty that could be executed on a hair-trigger. The only reason we could do this was helicopters.

These beauties are a lifesaver when it comes to safely transport a casualty quickly from an incident to an advanced care facility. It is amazing to me as I sit here now, that in the middle of Iraq, surrounded by desert, and a motivated unseen enemy, if I needed a helicopter, I could get one, and I could get it, in under an hour.

That, unfortunately, is not the case for Medicine Hat and Cypress County. Alberta Health Services DOES NOT have a helicopter ambulance. Instead, three charities have stepped up to make up for this gap in service. I’m going to just repeat that. AHS needs helicopter ambulances but has none. Three charities provide that service so that the estimated 656,000 Albertans living in rural areas, and everyone else for that matter, can be transported to a hospital should they need it.

This is has gotten me a little riled up. Health care systems like Alberta Health Services are big and expensive and that’s OK. They have a big and expensive job to do and we can’t shy away from that. When the MRI was invented that thing was expensive, still is, but it was needed so it was budgeted for and AHS has them. Why didn’t that happen with helicopter ambulances? If you need open-heart surgery in Alberta, AHS provides. If you need cancer treatment, AHS provides. If you need a helicopter ambulance, better hope someone sold enough 50/50 tickets or you may be out of luck.

Let me be clear here, I’m not blaming Alberta Health Services, I’m blaming the Alberta Government. Every Alberta Government since the first helicopter ambulance lifted into the air burning fuel paid for through charitable donation should be ashamed of its self. Every life saved by HALO, HERO, or STARS is a life deemed too expensive for the Alberta Government.

Of the three charities providing a helicopter ambulance in Alberta, none are funded by the Province. STARS in Calgary receives only 20% of it’s operating budget. HERO in Fort McMurray has received payments from the Province in the past but doesn’t list that contribution at this time.

HALO, in service for the last 14 years has never been funded by the Province or Federal Government

We need a helicopter ambulance service, AHS can’t service a prairie province without them. So why is it being treated as a luxury item? It’s a vital part of the chain of survival and if something doesn’t change very soon it will be missing from this ‘forgotten corner’ of Alberta as soon as July 1st.

HALO-1 has been dispatched to an inter-facility transfer in the Oyen, Alberta area.

Posted by HALO Air Ambulance on Monday, May 25, 2020

Paul Carolan, HALO’s CEO, was kind enough to spare some of the time He is currently devoting to keeping HALO alive, to answer a few questions for us.

How long does HALO take to reach a patient in comparison to STARS? An answer to this question is difficult, the location ultimately determines which helicopter would arrive first. Because HALO’s response area is so expansive its best to provide an example; a flight for HALO to Taber is approximately 28 minutes, a flight from Calgary approximately 50 minutes, a flight for HALO to Foremost is 22 minutes, a flight from Calgary is 66 minutes, a flight for HALO to Elkwater is 14 minutes, a flight from Calgary is 82 minutes.

Has HALO ever received funding towards operational costs from the Provincial or Federal Government? Since HALO began in 2007 we have received 1 capital grant of 1 million dollars to assist with the transition to the twin-engine helicopter from the Government of Alberta (2018). We have never received any funding from the Government of Canada.

How much are ‘fees for service’ and how do they compare to actual ‘cost of service’? HALO is currently on a fee-for-service model, meaning we are able to recuperate some expenses when we are dispatched on an approved Alberta Health Services mission. Under the fee-for-service model, we receive less than 8% of our annual operating budget.

What is the current operational costs shortfall? HALO’s annual budget is 3 million dollars. That covers all helicopter operations and program delivery. Our operational short-fall for 2020 is 1,750,000. In normal times we would be able to predict what fundraisers we have scheduled and forecast the fund development, due to COVID-19 we can’t forecast what fundraisers we can hold, let alone their potential fund development.

Who has stepped up to help so far? The list of people and corporate partners that have answered the #HALOCHALLENGE is overwhelming. HALO is humbled by the outpouring of community support. There are several Facebook Auctions taking place on our behalf, Western Tractor/McCain Foods/JEB Transport have teamed up for #freefryday on Friday, May 29 with a goal of raising $100,000, fire departments are challenging fire departments, Hutterite Colonies are challenging Hutterite Colonies, farmers are challenging farmers, grandmas are challenging grandmas.

Never in a million years did I think this fundraiser would gain so much traction, so quick. The support has been…

Posted by The Bunkhouse on Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Paul and the rest of the HALO team are working around the clock right now to secure donations to keep this vital service running. We will be doing what we can to help and I know there are many others helping out too, in true Alberta fashion.

This is not the first time I have been amazed by this community and its capacity to step up and help, whether it’s to fill sandbags during a flood, stock the shelves of a food bank, or save our much-beloved HALO. The realization of how close we are to losing HALO has brought home to me just how precarious this whole situation is, pandemic or not. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to have a vital part of our health care system, actually part of the health care system. I don’t think it’s unreasonable the next time we are all asked for our vote, that we, in turn, ask about our HALO.

This is the Minister of Health’s email address: health.minister@gov.ab.ca

Let him know how you feel about this situation, I know I did.

Much love, Move to the hat.