STARS ready for takeoff as province doubles funding

L-R: Mike Lamacchia (Chief Operating Officer, STARS Provincial Operations), MLA Sigurdson, Andrea Robertson, Premier Kenney, Minister Copping and Robin Helsdon (STARS pilot).

Budget 2022 spending to expand health capacity will see provincial funding to Shock Trauma Air Rescue Service (STARS) increase from $7 million to more than $15 million. That means Alberta’s government will cover approximately half of STARS’ base operating costs – up from about 23 per cent.

“This significant increase in investment will allow STARS’ highly specialized medical crews to continue serving Albertans, especially in rural communities. The additional support for helicopter air ambulance services is part of delivering on our commitment to provide Albertans with a stronger and resilient health system that can meet the needs of Albertans when and where they need that care.”

Jason Kenney, Premier

“Alberta’s government is committed to expanding health-care capacity to meet the needs of Albertans. More than doubling our supports for STARS ensures effective and sustainable helicopter air ambulance services for Albertans in critical situations. I want to thank STARS for their commitment to the health and safety of Albertans. We’ll continue to look at new ways to deliver the emergency medical services that Albertans rely on.”

Jason Copping, Minister of Health

“Helicopter air ambulance service, along with ground ambulances and fixed-wing air ambulance, are critical components of the EMS system in Alberta and one of the ways we are able to provide safe, reliable and timely service to rural and remote communities. EMS looks forward to continuing the strong working relationship we have enjoyed for many years with STARS in the service of Albertans.”

Darren Sandbeck, chief paramedic and senior provincial director, Alberta Health Services EMS

“This increased funding will help us deliver critical care to more patients across Alberta for years to come. It enables us to provide care through the helicopter and ways beyond, including virtual care and by supporting our partners across the province.”

Andrea Robertson, president and CEO, STARS

Alberta’s government continues to explore ways to enhance emergency medical services, including air ambulance services. The Alberta EMS Provincial Advisory Committee is developing recommendations to address EMS system pressures. A subcommittee that includes key partners will focus on further strengthening air ambulance services. An independent review to further improve the EMS dispatch system will also include air ambulance dispatch processes, and is expected to be complete by fall 2022.

Budget 2022 includes $64 million in additional funding for EMS to respond to high demand and stress on staff, including $28 million in supports for ground and helicopter air ambulance services. Alberta Health Services continues to work with two other existing helicopter air ambulance providers, Helicopter Emergency Rescue Operation (HERO) and Helicopter Air Lift Operation (HALO). Details regarding agreements with these providers is expected soon.

Quick facts

  • AHS is responsible for the delivery of EMS across Alberta, including ground, fixed-wing and helicopter ambulance services.
  • STARS has bases in Calgary, Edmonton and Grande Prairie. In 2019-20, it flew 1,255 missions (about 92.6 per cent of all helicopter air ambulance missions).
  • STARS covers 90 per cent of Alberta’s rural and remote population without refuelling from its three base locations.
  • STARS air medical crews are able to provide the highest level of care available outside the hospital – almost equivalent to an intensive care unit.
  • While helicopter air ambulances respond to a relatively small number of calls in context of all EMS calls – 0.2 per cent – the ability to move patients from scenes of accidents or between facilities to higher level of care ensures the best possible care to Albertans.