STARS air ambulance sees record number of flights in July

STARS was so busy in Manitoba last month, some days crews only come back to the airport to refuel, says the service's base director.

Air ambulance service so busy in Manitoba on some days crews only come back to the airport to refuel

Hayley Walker-Ross poses for media Tuesday. Walker-Ross credits STARS for saving her life after she was involved in an ATV crash. (Remi Authier/CBC)

Manitoba's contracted air ambulance service broke a record in July.

STARS air ambulance said its crews flew to the scene of 95 emergencies last month. During the same time frame in 2016, STARS responded to 65 calls for help.

"Our crews are often returning to the base, refueling and then going directly airborne again on another emergency response," said Grant Therrien, STARS' base director. "Every summer we anticipate a spike in our volume because more people are out on the roads, people are out at the cottage, everybody's enjoying the summer here."

Hayley Walker-Ross credits STARS for saving her life after she and her boyfriend rolled their Polaris RZR-brand ATV in Woodridge, Man., about 100 kilometres southeast of Winnipeg, in November of 2015.

"[The crash] threw my boyfriend through the roof of the RZR and I ended up underneath the RZR with it on my head and my helmet came off."

Without STARS … I don't think I'd be nearly as far as I am in life right now.- Hayley Walker-Ross

The crash fractured her skull and her spine, and she said the nearest hospital in Steinbach wouldn't have been able to help with her injuries.

Two years later, she is still recovering, but back in school to get a marketing degree.

"Without STARS … I don't think I'd be nearly as far as I am in life right now," said Walker-Ross.

Improved response times: base director

July saw 54 scene calls, 41 inter-facility calls, 40 medical emergencies, 25 trauma calls, 25 vehicle crashes and five calls involving ATVs for the air ambulance service.

Therrin said at that pace, STARS is expected to respond to about 700 calls in 2017, up from 619 in 2016. He said response times have fallen as the service became "fully integrated within Manitoba's emergency response system.

"The helipad has been made an enormous difference in terms of reducing response times," Therrin added, referring to the helicopter landing pad at Winnipeg's Health Sciences Centre that opened last November.

"This is our first summer using that tool and that allows us to be in service a little bit more. That also contributes to us being available for more calls."

STARS was briefly grounded in 2014 after questions were raised about safety of patients between transfers. After a review that required technicians to undergo more training, the previous NDP government allowed the service to fly in Manitoba once more. 

Since then, the relationship between STARS and the province has become more integrated, said Health Minister Kelvin Goertzen.

"I have been pleased to visit with the dedicated crews from STARS on multiple occasions at their Winnipeg base, in rural communities and at the new heliport at the Health Sciences Centre," he said. 

"Through improved co-ordination with our dispatch resources, we have been able to optimize our use of the air ambulance as was originally intended." 

STARS — which stands for Shock Trauma Air Rescue Society — is a non-profit organization that operates out of six bases in western Canada. 

With files from Remi Authier