By Kevin J. Sabo
For the Advance
Since 2016, the iconic red helicopter of STARS has flown 37 missions into the region of Paintearth County.
Of these missions, a dozen of them have occurred in 2020 alone, including six missions into Castor’s Our Lady of the Rosary Hospital and four more into the Coronation Hospital.
A dozen missions into the region in a single year is the highest level seen since 2016, and in 2020 STARS has been doing it with less funding.
Funding from the Government of Alberta is down moderately, as is the variety of fundraising efforts that the STARS team does, including their lottery and calendar campaigns.
“Most of STARS fundraising has been canceled,” said Glenda Farnden during her presentation to the County of Paintearth council members.
“We are hopeful that Albertans will continue to be by our side.”
The decrease in funding comes at a time where costs are increasing, thanks to the ongoing pandemic currently gripping the globe.
Costs for personal protective equipment and equipment decontamination have gone up, and like many other sectors in the western provinces, the organization has been forced to downsize staff members at all six bases.
That’s where municipal partners, such as the County of Paintearth come in. The County currently supports STARS at a rate of $5 per capita, or about $10,500 per year.
“STARS cannot do this alone,” said Farnden.
“We are requesting that you make another three-year commitment.”
The County is currently entering year three of a three-year commitment at the $5 per capita mark, though with 2021 being an election year in the County, it’s impossible to know what a new council may do.
“I don’t foresee any change,” said County of Paintearth Reeve Stan Schulmeister. “We’ll see what the new council looks like at the time.”
As for STARS’ impact amid the pandemic, Farnden reported that anywhere from 13 per cent to 18 per cent of their patients in 2020 have tested positive for COVID-19, requiring rigorous personal protective equipment use and decontamination procedures.
“We’ve established a buddy system for oversight,” said Farnden.
“These are stressful times.”
STARS is also currently undergoing a fleet modernization program, upgrading from venerable BK-117 helicopter that has served the organization since its inception.
It is moving to the H-145, a successor to the BK-117. Currently three of the new aircraft are in use, with two operational and one being used for training purposes.
In total, seven new aircraft will be serving all the STARS bases in western Canada by the end of 2022, with two of them being equipped with five-bladed rotors, allowing for more lift in mountainous regions.
Some of the new aircraft will be paid for by the sale of the legacy fleet of Bk-117s.