Bill for airlifting Sask. COVID-19 ICU patients to Ontario and back tops $1.3M

Twenty-seven people were airlifted to Ontario. Only 21 people would come back alive.

The final price tag is expected to climb when Ontario passes on the cost of caring for 27 ICU patients

A patient from Saskatchewan is transferred from an air ambulance to a waiting Peel Region ambulance at Toronto's Pearson Airport on Oct. 27. A number of COVID-19 patients were sent to Ontario ICUs to alleviate the strain on the Saskatchewan health-care system. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Saskatchewan will pay more than $1.3 million for transferring COVID-19 ICU patients to Ontario in the fall.

In total, 27 people were sent to Ontario to alleviate the overburdened ICU capacity in Saskatchewan during the peak of the fourth wave in the province.

Between Oct. 18, and Dec. 14, 25 patients were transported by contracted, private planes and two were taken on Canadian Armed Forces transports. Of those patients, 21 were transferred back alive. Six people would die in Ontario.

Saskatchewan spent an estimated $529,200 on flying the patients back, the province confirmed in an email to CBC News on Dec. 14. That brings the total cost of the airlift project to $1.3 million to date, but there are still more bills to come.

The airlift

The province confirmed in a legislative committee at the end of November that as of December it had spent $783,532 on the airlift operation. 

Those costs included two contracts: a $545,000 deal with Fox Flight Air Ambulance and a $96,000 agreement with Sunwest Aviation, which was contracted through STARS Air Ambulance.

Twenty-three people were transported by Fox Flight while two others were transported through Sunwest. 

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Along with the flights, Saskatchewan has revealed that it covered costs for travel, meals and accommodations for the family members of ICU patients flown to Ontario.

That expense was pegged at $142,532 as of Dec. 2. 

More costs

It's not clear which company the province paid to fly patients back to Saskatchewan but there are going to be more costs associated with the airlift program. 

The province says it has not yet been provided with a bill for two aspects of the airlift. 

That includes the flights for two patients to Ontario on a Canadian Armed Forces transport.

The other cost will be the eventual bill from Ontario for treating the 27 patients in that province's ICUs. 

As of Wednesday evening, Saskatchewan's health ministry said Ontario had yet to tell them how much is owed. 

Saskatchewan Health Minister Paul Merriman has previously said the province wouldn't get a bill from Ontario until the entire process was over and all patients were back in the province.