MEDICINE HAT, AB — For 12 years, HALO Air Rescue has operated largely on donations from the public, and up until this year, did not receive any government funding.
Now, with a new government in place, the air ambulance service is hoping consistent and stable funding will be in its future.
“Throughout the election, and since the election has taken place, we’ve been in touch with all of the candidates, including the ones that were elected,” said Paul Carolan, the director of fundraising for HALO. “We’ve been in touch with Drew Barnes and Michaela Glasgo and some other MLAs in the area, into the southwest area of the province, and they’ve all been really supportive.
“We’re waiting to hear if we can have a more formalized meeting in the near future, but we’ve lobbied throughout our entire existence to have sustained funding from government.”
Approximately nine months ago, HALO began operating a twin engine BK117 helicopter, which can improve their response time, allows them to travel a greater distance and can allow them to carry additional equipment.
However, the new copter comes at a higher cost, costing roughly $2.6 million a year to keep operating. The previous helicopter cost roughly $850,000 a year.
“(It’s) just a more advanced helicopter,” he said. “We fly with two pilots all the time now, and just the helicopter and the crews, it just means a substantially bigger budget.”
Carolan says HALO received approximately $1 million in fundraising last year from its donors, and says since the new helicopter has been operating, donations have gone up.
“People understand the program has changed, and it’s gotten more advanced, and we’ve seen our regular donors even step up a little bit to try and help out with that,” he said.
In January, HALO received a one-time grant of $1 million from the province.
“The government money made a big difference in that, but what we don't know is if that's going to continue, so we have to plan our fundraising efforts on not having certainty around that at this time,” said Carolan.
Cypress-Medicine Hat MLA Drew Barnes has advocated for HALO funding through his seven years in office.
“If the rest of Alberta is funded at a certain level per capita, I think the 100, 150 thousand of us down in the southeast corner need to be paid and need to be supported on that same per capita basis,” he said over the phone from Edmonton on Friday. “What's fair for the rest of the province is absolutely fair for us.”
Barnes says he has a meeting scheduled with Health Minister Tyler Shandro on July 16, where funding for HALO will be the main topic. Barnes says if there is additional funding for HALO, it will likely be included in the province’s fall budget.
Carolan adds if they do receive sustained funding from the provincial government, it would be a game-changer for HALO.
“HALO will continue to fundraise, regardless of sustained funding, but sustained funding that we know is expected would help us plan better and understand better what we need to go out and find when we know what we have coming in from the government,” he said.
HALO has been called 84 times in 2019, according to Carolan.
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