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STARS hopes to resume Manitoba flights soon

December 4, 2013  By The Winnipeg Free Press

Dec. 4, 2013, Winnipeg - The head of the Alberta-based Shock Trauma Air Rescue Society helicopter ambulance service, grounded by the Manitoba government Monday, wants the emergency service to return to the sky as soon as possible.

STARS president and CEO Andrea Robertson said she is hopeful two
provincial reviews into the service will eventually see STARS back in
the air over southern Manitoba.

"If there's one single thing we can do better, we're absolutely open to that," Robertson said Tuesday.

The STARS emergency medical service was
suspended by the province following the death Friday of a woman
suffering from cardiac arrest.

Health Minister Erin Selby
said the woman's death is being investigated as a critical incident —
the third in less than a year. The three incidents all involve the
delivery of oxygen to a patient.


The first occurred last February and
involved an adult — no details have been released — and saw six
dispatch restrictions placed by provincial medical officials on STARS,
including the type of patient the service could fly and the distance it
could transport patients.

The second critical incident was in May
and involved two-year-old Morgan Moar-Campbell. He was being flown from
Brandon aboard the STARS helicopter for tests following a seizure. The
boy was in an induced coma and could not breathe on his own. When he
landed in Winnipeg, it was discovered his breathing tube had been pulled
out, depriving him of oxygen and leaving him severely brain-damaged.
His case is now the subject of a lawsuit.

The province has ordered a review of 15 cases handled by STARS.

"We are absolutely focused
on doing everything possible to make sure that going forward every
patient that we touch is provided with the best and the safest care that
we can possible give," said STARS medical director Dr. Michael Betzner.
"But we transport critically unwell patients and this is a very
difficult, high-risk time for patients."

STARS is also the subject of a
value-for-money audit by Manitoba's auditor general to be released early
next year. The audit is looking at the province's 10-year, $100-million
contract with STARS, which was signed last February.

The experience of STARS in Alberta, where
it started in the mid-1990s, and in Saskatchewan, where it began
operating in 2012, is the opposite of Manitoba's. Neither western
province has investigated a critical incident involving STARS. STARS had
never been suspended until this week in Manitoba.

In Saskatchewan on Tuesday, the province
announced STARS can now land at Regina General Hospital, with Transport
Canada certifying a new $3.4-million rooftop heliport. In October in
Calgary, STARS unveiled a new $16-million AW139 helicopter to add to its

In the Manitoba
legislature Tuesday, Opposition Progressive Conservative health critic
Cameron Friesen said the STARS suspension comes at a time when the
province is hard-pressed to provide emergency service in rural Manitoba.

"The minister said she has a plan, but remember, the minister has said she had a plan before.

"When we have raised questions about
ambulance wait times, the minister has said it's all good, we have
STARS," Friesen said. "We've raised questions about doctor shortages in
rural communities, the minister has said, we have STARS. We have raised
questions about ER closures and she has said we have STARS. Now we don't
have STARS."

Selby said the province has reconfigured
its fixed-wing air ambulance system in the absence of STARS so patients
needing medical care are flown from rural and northern Manitoba to
Winnipeg as quickly as possible. The fleet includes two critical-care
air ambulance jets and 24 basic air-ambulance aircraft.

"It definitely was not an easy
decision," Selby said of the temporary suspension. "It was on the
advice of medical professionals that told us that they had serious
concerns about procedures not perhaps being followed."


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