Fort McMurray late-night medevac services in danger, says operator

Overnight medevac services in Fort McMurray are in danger of shutting down due to lack of funding from the province, the region’s only heli-ambulance provider says.
The president of Phoenic Heli-flight said the company is no longer able to afford running late-night medevac services for the Fort McMurray area. He's asking the province and local industry players to chip in to help cover costs. (Phoenix Heli-flight)

Overnight medevac services in Fort McMurray are in danger of shutting down due to lack of funding from the province, the region’s only heli-ambulance provider says.

Paul Spring is the president of Phoenix Heli-Flight, which has been responsible for providing medevac services in the area for 23 years using its fleet of chartered aircraft.

After a meeting with government and industry officials last year in which he says both players promised support, Spring spent $3 million to bring new aircraft into service in order to provide 24-hour air ambulance support to the region.

“To meet the growing demand, we had to have machines that were available when the call comes in, not wait an hour to get the call revved up.”

However, Spring says the province has yet to come on board with stable funding to help support the operation, leaving his company – which is paid on a fee per service basis – tight on cash.

“We’re spending money quickly to make this happen and we don’t want to turn down people in need, but the money just hasn’t flowed at the rate that we thought it would,” he told CBC’s Tim Adams.

Listen to Spring’s full interview with CBC’s Tim Adams

“We’ve exhausted our ability to fund the program and have reached out to the community to make some noise on this.”

Now, Spring wants Alberta Health Services and the industry players who first supported the plan to chip in. If funding doesn’t come through, Spring said overnight heli-services may end next month.

AHS said it was unaware the night service was being phased out, but promised residents in the area will still have access to night medevac services “regardless of Phoenix Heli-Flight’s decision.”

The province said chartered fixed-wing planes or ground ambulances will be used instead, if it comes to that.

Spring’s response to that plan was blunt.

“People will die that way,” he said, citing the death of one boater and delayed rescue of another last summer as an example.

“[The government is] wilfully ignorant of the transportation challenges we have in the oilsands region,” he said.

Health officials have agreed to meet with Spring’s company to discuss the situation.

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