HALO Air Ambulance is the only dedicated medevac helicopter that covers southern Alberta and southwest Saskatchewan, forming the boundary of the former Palliser Health region, which covers 50,000 square kilometers.
Since its inception in 2007, HALO has dispatched over 550 missions, from their base in Medicine Hat, Alta.
When it comes to air ambulances, it doesn’t seem to matter where you are or what you do, but we all know someone that has needed this kind of service. And with rural residents being so far from a hospital, it can mean life or death.
Paul Carolan, CEO of HALO, says that often when people think of emergency services, they think of the ‘golden hour’ — the first 60 minutes after an accident or severe illness, that highly increases your chances of a full recovery. HALO covers areas that other air ambulance providers aren’t able to cover, providing rapid response to areas that normally wouldn’t be reached within that golden hour.
However, COVID-19 has caused significant difficulties for HALO. The program operates off of fundraising efforts; and without the ability to fundraise, they are facing large financial setbacks.
“HALO is coming off the most successful fundraising year in its history, and the foundation, which is governed by a volunteer board of directors, has proven they can do their part,” says Carolan. “We have an incredible relationship with rural municipalities and counties, which have really stepped up and done their part over the years.” (Story continues below interview).
HALO added a twin-engine helicopter in 2018, which gave the program a five-fold increase in calls for service, but along with that, came a three to three and a half times increase in the budget, which made the operational costs soar.
“We did receive a $1 million grant from the previous Alberta government to help with the transition to a twin-engine program. And other than that, we are on a fee per service. So with authorized Alberta Health missions, we are able to incur some costs, but it represents less than eight per cent of our operating budget because we are completely dedicated and available whenever paramedics need us” Carolan states.
As much as COVID-19 has been the catalyst for the financial difficulties HALO is facing, Carolan emphasizes that it is not the cause. He says the cause is the “lack of sustainable funding from the provincial government. We have some great things going on right now, and if we can just get the government to enable this program, we can serve southern Alberta for years to come.”
Originally, according to Carolan, HALO looked at a scale-back to their single-engine helicopter on June 1, and a potential cessation of operations on July 1. However, they are receiving an unbelievable outpouring of community support, and are hoping to be able to push those dates back.
In an effort to try to support HALO, as well as potato farmers across the province, McCain Foods and Western Tractor will be hosting a Free Fry Day community event on Friday, May 29. Nearly 7,500 bags of french fries will be given away at Western Tractor dealerships located in Medicine Hat, Burdett, Taber, and Lethbridge.