County renewing efforts to have helipad built

Richard Froese
South Peace News

The soaring number of STARS air ambulance transfers at the High Prairie Health Complex has led Big Lakes County to ask for regional support to lobby authorities to build a helipad on site.

At its regular meeting March 13, council agreed to write asking for letters of support from neighbouring municipalities and Indigenous communities in the county’s efforts to lobby Alberta Health Services and the provincial government.

“Administration was working through the logistics of getting letters of support from its regional partners and brought that forward to council for direction,” Reeve Tyler Airth said about the issue, which was added to the agenda as a late item.

“The County would like to request support from its regional partners to have Alberta Health Services build a helipad at the High Prairie Health Complex.”

Statistics from Grande Prairie STARS (Shock Trauma Air Rescue Service) show about one-half of the STARS missions in the Big Lakes and High Prairie region are for critical inter-facility transfers at the High Prairie Health Complex.

STARS responded to 19 of 36 local missions at the hospital in 2023, 21 of 39 missions at the hospital in 2022 and 16 of 38 calls at the hospital in 2021.

The high numbers of mission at the hospital was briefly discussed when STARS regional senior municipal relations liaison Glenda Farnden presented the 2023 STARS report with statistics to council at its regular meeting Feb. 28.

North Gilwood – Triangle Councillor Jim Zabolotniuk asked her if the high number of hospital transfers was something that council should consider to again lobby for a helipad.

Farnden agreed and nothing more was discussed about it.

Since early 2020, STARS and AHS have had to use the High Prairie Airport for transfers.

Big Lakes requests letters of support from neighbouring municipalities including the Town of High Prairie and the Town of Swan Hills.

The County also seeks letters of support from Indigenous communities inclduing East Prairie Metis Settlement, Peavine Metis Settlement, Kapawe’no Cree Nation, Driftpile Cree Nation, Gift Lake Metis Settlement, Sucker Creek First Nation, Whitefish Lake First Nation and Swan River First Nation.

A temporary helipad was located at the new hospital from June 29, 2017, two months after new hospital opened, until the helipad was closed by Transport Canada in early 2020.

Big Lakes then created a briefing document to lobby AHS and the government to build a helipad at the hospital. The document was last updated Feb. 8, 2023 after the direct route to the airport was closed for three days when a train derailed at the crossing on Highway 749 on Jan. 11, 2023.

Airth said council has no plans to update the document at this time.

A helipad at the hospital is not a priority according to AHS criteria, then-CAO Jordan Panasiuk reported to council at its meeting July 14, 2021.

High Prairie does not qualify for a helipad at the hospital because the hospital and airport are less than 20 km apart. AHS considers a helipad when they are more than 20 km apart.

Big Lakes recommends AHS and the government consider federal funding for the project since the local region has a high Indigenous population that accesses the hospital, the document states.

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