Province commits to fixed funding for air ambulance in northeastern Alberta

A commitment by the province to pick up more of the cost of air ambulance service in northeastern Alberta will ease pressure on the charity that runs the helicopter service.

Alberta Health Services commits $1 million annually over next two years to help pay for emergency helicopter

Local HERO Foundation operates a helicopter ambulance service in northeastern Alberta and in Wood Buffalo. (David Thurton/ CBC)

A commitment by the province to pick up more of the cost of air ambulance service in northeastern Alberta will ease pressure on the charity that runs the helicopter service.

"It's a big step forward to secure funding," Paul Spring, president of Local HERO Foundation said. "Because obviously things have slowed down in Fort McMurray with the price of oil collapse in 2014."

Alberta Health Services is committing $1 million annually over the next two years to help cover the service.

Until now, AHS funded the service under a fee-per-use model. The slowdown in the economy means fewer calls, while  the cost of the service remained the same.

The new sustained funding will go towards paying the salaries of nine pilots, mandatory training, night vision goggles and maintenance.

Local HERO Foundation also receives $2 million in total annually from a coalition of oilsands companies and the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo.

The foundation still needs to raise about $500,000 annually to cover operational costs like fuel. 

Jody Butz, fire chief and head of emergency services for the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo, applauded the change to more secure funding. 

"It's one of those critical services," Butz said. "We are in a more stable-funding model that is shared amongst all the users in the region."

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David Thurton

Senior reporter, Parliamentary Correspondent

David Thurton is a senior reporter in CBC's Parliamentary Bureau. He covers daily politics in the nation’s capital and specializes in environment and energy policy. Born in Canada but raised in Trinidad and Tobago, he’s moved around more times than he can count. He’s worked for CBC in several provinces and territories, including Alberta and the Northwest Territories.