Shared Health takes over Manitoba's Lifeflight air ambulance service

Manitoba's government has shuffled responsibility for the Lifeflight air ambulance program from Manitoba Health to Shared Health, the organization that co-ordinates health care in the province. 

Program for most critically ill or injured patients has been under Manitoba Health since '80s

A Lifeflight air ambulance plane, which will now be overseen by Shared Health, rather than Manitoba Health. (CBC)

Manitoba's government has shuffled responsibility for the Lifeflight air ambulance program from Manitoba Health to Shared Health, the organization that co-ordinates health care in the province. 

The province, which has run Lifeflight for more than three decades, announced the transfer of medical leadership and operations to the health authority on Friday.

"Health care has changed and we feel that there are tremendous advantages that will come from the consolidation of this Lifeflight service inside Shared Health," said Health Minister Cameron Friesen.

Lifeflight's 24-hour air ambulance program responds to the most critically ill or injured patients in areas beyond a 200-kilometre radius of Winnipeg, accounting for about 400-500 calls per year.

Shared Health already oversees the province's other annual 7,000-8,000 calls for air ambulance, including all non-critical calls, transfers between facilities, child health, neonatal, STARS and out-of-province transfers. 

"The idea of having everybody under one umbrella, we can have one set of triage protocols, we can have one process for accessing those teams," said Dr. Rob Grierson, chief medical officer of emergency response services for Shared Health, who will now oversee Lifeflight as well. 

Grierson said he's spoken with the Lifeflight staff in the past 24 hours, and the response has been positive.

"They welcome the opportunity. And like myself, they see this as a wonderful next step in trying to improve the service and consolidate the service in a health care setting where it really belongs."

Renate Singh, an anesthesiologist at HSC and the Grace hospitals, has been Lifeflight's medical director for the past 8 1/2 years. She says the transition is a good thing for the program.

'Big step forward'

While the transfer involves the elimination of Lifeflight's medical director position which was held by Dr. Renate Singh, she and the other doctors will continue to fly.

"This transition to Shared Health is actually a big step forward for the Lifeflight program and represents a very positive change because Shared Health has resources for staff training, recruitment and development that Manitoba Health was never able to provide," Singh said. 

The anesthesiologist said she's eager to see Grierson's vision for the growth and integration of emergency transport services come to fruition over the coming years.

"It's a little bittersweet for me, but overall for the program it's good," she said.

Questions remain

But the union which could end up representing Lifeflight nurses says more information is needed. 

"MNU was advised of this decision yesterday, and was not consulted in advance," Manitoba Nurses Union president Darlene Jackson wrote in a statement.

"At this time, we are left with serious concerns about how this will impact the staffing model and operation of the Lifeflight program, which has already experienced significant disruption due to changes forced by this government."

Manitoba Health Minister Cameron Friesen says the consolidation of Lifeflight into Shared Health Services has always been part of government plan for system transformation. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

Friesen said the Lifeflight program is now fully staffed and the inception of the new model, which has always been part of the government's plan for health system transformation, should "collapse" wait times and provide more integrated care. He added details of the conditions for operators of Lifeflight's privately owned planes will be revealed soon. 

"The whole model here is to absolutely match the team to the patient at the right time," said Grierson. 

"And the best way to co-ordinate that is under Shared Health because we have access to all those teams."


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?