October 13, 2021 By Jesse Boily, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Town and Country News
The Grande Prairie Shock Trauma Air Rescue Service (STARS) air ambulance service has seen an increase in demand at the same time it’s also seen a decline in funding.
“The mission rate has significantly increased yet our funding has decreased,” said Glenda Farnden, municipal relations liaison for STARS.
STARS in Grande Prairie will see anywhere from 75 to 325 missions in a year, said Farnden. Approximately 18 per cent of its missions early on in the pandemic were COVID-related.
“We’re flying so much more because of COVID,” she said.
“We have so many of the rural communities and rural hospitals that are reaching out, and they need to get these patients to a higher level of care.”
STARS is making its rounds to local municipalities looking for additional financial support for operations as well as a new H145 helicopter for the Grande Prairie base.
STARS is hopeful to have the new helicopter in Grande Prairie by the end of the year. Currently the base operates with one helicopter.
The new helicopter will replace the older BK117 helicopter which has become costly to maintain and find parts for, given its age of 36 years.
STARS is replacing all of its helicopters in Western Canada with a new fleet of H145’s. There is nine in total, and they boast cutting-edge technology and a new Airbus five-blade system that will allow STARS to reach areas it previously couldn’t, giving the helicopter additional lift and load capacities.
The Town of Sexsmith has donated $2 per capita annually since 2015, and this year, it added an additional $5,000 to go to the new Grande Prairie helicopter.
On Sept. 27, the County of Grande Prairie deferred its $200,000 annual donation to STARS to an interim budget deliberation.
The county gifted $500,000 to STARS in Feb. 2020 for the new helicopter.
Sexsmith Mayor Kate Potter says that the funds will help ensure the safety of residents.
She noted the town sees about one or two landings a year within the town.
“It’s a very tangible service that our residents see and know how critical it is for those who need that,” said Potter.
To date, STARS has received $1.6 million from local municipalities and another million from local oil and gas companies, and they have about $6 million remaining to raise, said Farnden.
“They’re (donors) recognizing that it’s an investment for the future for our residents,” she said.
Fundraising has not been easy for STARS during the pandemic.
STARS made the pivot to online events and is now more reliant on events like its Oct. 6 radiothon, where they can share patient stories and share information from their crews.
They launched their most significant funding source this past year, the STARS lottery, which sold out, and they plan to hold the 2022 lottery in January.
She also noted municipalities have stepped up and have been selling calendars from many town offices throughout the South Peace.