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STARS reaches out for municipal support

Live-saving organization responds to 45 calls in the Bonnyville-Cold Lake area in 2020
STARS funds
Pilots of STARS Air Ambulances are subject to rigorous PPE to keep them safe during the COVID-19 pandemic.

BONNYVILLE - The M.D. of Bonnyville confirmed its continued support of STARS Air Ambulance, following a delegation by the life-saving organization on Jan. 6.

Glenda Farnden, Senior Municipal Relations Liaison with STARS, attended the meeting virtually to speak with the municipality, last week. She spoke about how the COVID-19 pandemic has had an effect on the organization.

"COVID-19 has changed all our lives," said Farnden. STARS developed a rigorous PPE buddy system to ensure there is oversight. 

"These are stressful times."

Suspected or confirmed COVID cases make up about 13 per cent of calls, said Farnden. She added that there has been an increase in stress-related medical incidents such as heart attacks, strokes and drug overdoses, along with COVID-cases.

In 2020, STARS responded to 18 Bonnyville critical inter-facility transfers, one scene call near Bonnyville, 23 Cold Lake critical inter-facility transfers, two scene calls near Cold Lake, and one scene call at Kehewin Cree Nation, making for a total of 45 calls to the Bonnyville-Cold Lake area. This is the highest number of calls over the five-year period that statistics were presented for.

In the past five years, STARS has responded to the Bonnyville-Cold Lake area 162 times.

May long weekend is typically the busiest weekend for STARS on a provincial level, although right now is also considered a "busy season."

Farnden acknowledged that municipalities across the province are facing challenges, but STARS is experiencing a significant decrease in funding, including in the form of government support. 

The 2020 STARS lottery did not sell out, and the calendar campaign is also down. A number of fundraising event being cancelled due to the pandemic also translates to fewer funds being collected.

The 2021 lottery is going to take place, as the lottery is the largest fundraising initiative for STARS.

Like many other organizations, STARS was forced to downsize its staff, despite an increase in calls.

The organization is also keeping its sight set on replacing its helicopter fleet with the AIRBUS H145. The first three helicopters arrived in 2019 and 2020. The fourth and fifth have just arrived, and a sixth and seventh are expected later in the year. The last two helicopters are estimated to arrive in 2022. 

COVID-19 hit in the middle of the fundraising campaign for the new fleet of helicopters, but Farnden says "we must not lose sight." The sale of the previous fleet is expected to bring in about half of the remaining $30 million that is needed to pay for the new helicopters.

Farnden requested a $10,000 contribution from the M.D. of Bonnyville, but also noted that STARS did not receive funds from the municipality in 2019 or 2020. 

"The stakes are undeniably high. . . . we need you now more than ever," said Farnden.

M.D. of Bonnyville administration noted that contributions had been budgeted for 2019, 2020 and 2021, and asked Farnden to send an annual invoice to ensure the contribution is received by STARS.

A motion to accept the presentation as information was approved, due to the funds already being included in the 2021 budget.