Report recommends air ambulance services to be consolidated

Susan Thompson
South Peace News

The Town of Peace River’s referendum was held after news broke that the provincial review of Alberta’s healthcare system by Ernst & Young recommends consolidating the air ambulance bases in Fort Vermilion, Peace River, Slave Lake, and Lac La Biche for a cost savings of $2 million.

The Ernst & Young report, which was released on Feb. 3, says the four northern Alberta bases are significantly underused. In Peace River 82 per cent of the air ambulance traffic comes from other bases, and the report suggests moving the aircraft to the next closest base in Grande Prairie.

However, AHS press secretary Steve Buick told CBC on Feb. 6 that the bases in Fort Vermilion, Peace River, Slave Lake and Lac La Biche will continue to operate.

Tarpey says he was “somewhat shocked” to see consolidation mentioned in the AHS report, but at the same time not surprised.

“Obviously, the report was not well thought out or considered,” he says.

He adds the report had no consultation and no review, “just implementation come hell or high water.”

“One of the reasons that Peace River is an air ambulance base is that the Peace River Valley and its immediate environs are subject to fog; it is easier [and safer for everyone involved] to fly out of a fog bank with a patient than to fly into a fog bank, land, pick up a critically injured patient, and then fly out of a fog bank to a facility with the required/needed higher level of care. It is just common sense,” Tarpey says.

“Albertans are going to be pretty angry, and rightfully so, should a patient die on a gurney waiting for a plane that couldn’t land because of foggy conditions, and all because some AHS bureaucrat thought he or she could save $2 million out of a $15 billion budget – less than two-tenths of a per cent.

“AHS bureaucrats have never been known for common sense; they seem to over rely on playing the pound-foolish, penny-wise card. Perhaps, one of these days, they will realize that Canada has withdrawn the penny from general circulation and that is no longer a real option to play that card.”

Since AHS is only in the first year of a new contract for air ambulance services, consolidating the bases could result in expensive penalties or a contract buyout that would decrease any potential cost savings.

“I was quite confident that there would be no disruption in the current air ambulance model since we have just settled into freshly-inked 10-year contracts,” says Stephen Woodburn of Advanced Paramedic Ltd.

“It would be much too costly to make any changes at this time; however, as I have always said, the Peace River base location should never be taken for granted. This is the second time in six years that Peace River base location has been under the consolidation microscope by AHS.”

Peace River’s air ambulance service contract has already been the subject of heavy controversy since CanWest Air won the air ambulance contract. Competing airlines said that CanWest did not have the infrastructure to meet the contract requirements when it was awarded. The contract will be the subject of a judicial review hearing in Sept. 2020.

Northern Air ended passenger air service from Peace River on Jan. 1, and in an official statement made at the time, Northern Air President Nathan Hilman blamed the loss of the air ambulance contract as a contributing factor.

Peace River town council held a special council meeting on Feb. 11 to discuss the referendum results and make a decision about the airport.

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