Saskatchewan operations ramping up
STARS opened our first Saskatchewan base in Regina on April 30, 2012. This will be followed by the opening of our Saskatoon base in the fall. Following the announcement with the Government of Saskatchewan last year, the STARS team has been busy building the program.
- Ron Dufresne joined the STARS team in January as vice president of Saskatchewan operations.
- Dr. Terry Ross joined the team as medical director for the Regina base.
- 10 air medical crew members – paramedics and registered nurses – were hired in December 2011. Additional air medical crew members for Regina are being recruited in anticipation of 24/7 operations.
- 13 pilots and four aircraft engineers have been hired for the Saskatchewan bases.
Home for STARS in Regina
STARS purchased an existing hangar located at the Regina International Airport in October 2011.
- An adjoining building is being constructed to include crew quarters, education and training areas, and office space.
- The hangar is currently in use with the adjoining building slated for completion in the summer.
- Two BK117 helicopters have been purchased.
- The first aircraft slated for Saskatchewan has undergone a range of modifications to meet the requirements of Transport Canada, as well as the medical needs of STARS.
- The second BK117 helicopter is undergoing a similar retrofit to be ready for the Saskatoon base opening in the fall of 2012.
- The STARS team has been on the road in Saskatchewan conducting informational outreach sessions and landing zone training.
- More than 140 sessions have been held to date, with more planned.
- Funding for the STARS program in Saskatchewan is being met through a collaborative agreement with the provincial government, as well as through donations.
- STARS in Saskatchewan is possible with the generous financial support from corporate partners, including Crescent Point Energy, Mosaic Potash, PotashCorp, Enbridge, Enerplus, Husky, Rawlco Radio and Graham Construction.
Questions and Answers
What is the Shock Trauma Air Rescue Society (STARS)?
STARS is a charitable non-profit organization that provides a safe, rapid, highly specialized emergency medical transport system to critically ill and injured patients. STARS currently provides service 24 hours a day, seven days a week from bases in Calgary, Edmonton and Grande Prairie. Beginning in 2012, STARS will also be providing helicopter air ambulance in Saskatchewan, from bases in Regina and Saskatoon.
STARS is a well recognized leader in critical patient care, rapid transportation, and emergency medical training and education. STARS unique model of community, corporate and government support allows us to continue innovating excellence in patient care.
When was STARS established?
Calgary base in 1985, Edmonton base in 1991, Grande Prairie base in 2006. Two bases will open in Saskatchewan in 2012. STARS has responded to more than 20,000 emergencies since it began in 1985.
How does helicopter air ambulance make a difference to patients?
Saving time is a critical factor in severe illness and injury such as heart disease, stroke and trauma. Helicopter medical transport can decrease emergency medical response time and improve the chances for patient recovery or survival. Time is critical in saving brain function and heart muscle. The system must be activated early and quickly when it is recognized that advanced care is required to make a difference.
How is STARS called for help?
There are two ways that STARS can be called into service.
- At the scene of an accident: An emergency services member (fire, police, paramedic, RCMP) can request STARS. STARS, Saskatchewan Health, and emergency service providers will develop flight activation protocols and orientation processes.
- From a rural hospital: This is a doctor-to-doctor decision.
How does STARS care for the patient?
As soon as a request for assistance is received from a rural hospital physician, an on-call emergency physician trained in transport medicine is available to provide medical advice and go on the mission if required. The specialized air medical crew (critical care or emergency flight nurse, flight paramedic, and often the physician) take critical care to the patient in the rural emergency department or to the scene (often the roadside or a remote location).
This level of care continues in the air on the way to advanced care in the larger hospital centres. Dedicated helicopters take the crew directly to the roadside or to the patient’s bedside when the heliport is located at a hospital. This eliminates the need for multiple patient transfers. Decreased time and number of physical transfers lessens the “at risk time” (out of hospital time) for critical patients.
How is STARS funded?
STARS is a charitable, non-profit organization, and the STARS Foundation is the fundraising arm for STARS. Funding is met through donations received from individuals, service groups, business and corporations, municipalities, and through collaborative agreements with provincial governments.
In Saskatchewan, the provincial government is investing $5 million in 2011-12 with approximately $10 million annually moving forward. The remainder of the funds will come from STARS fundraising efforts, including contributions from the community and corporate sector. Some organizations have already come forward – including Crescent Point Energy, Mosaic Potash, PotashCorp, to name a few – and are helping to bring helicopter air ambulance to the citizens of Saskatchewan.
Community support and involvement is very important to STARS. Fundraising is the largest financial contribution to mission operations. Funds raised in Saskatchewan support the local STARS program.
Will patients be billed for STARS?
STARS will not be involved in billing patients directly. Saskatchewan’s current billing practice for fixed-wing air ambulance services will also be applied to helicopter ambulance. Patients will be charged a $350 fee per flight.
Will STARS be a 24/7 operation in Saskatchewan?
Our plan is to operate 24 hours a day. We will most likely begin operations in April 2012 with daylight hours and then proceed with our formal plan toward 24 hour days. In the past, STARS has phased new base openings when the majority of clinical and aviation staff are new to STARS. This allows time to increase staff comfort level with providing services such as the night vision goggles program in new terrain.
Can weather conditions prevent STARS from responding to a medical emergency?
There are times when severe weather conditions can limit availability of the aircraft and crew, including severe thunderstorms, dense fog, high winds, or icing (a condition where moisture in the air freezes on the body and rotor blades of a helicopter).
Before any mission is accepted, STARS pilots review the weather conditions in the areas of the planned flight path. If severe weather is forecast or occurring, the flight crew might choose to wait for the conditions to pass or they might recommend the use of ground ambulance for transport for the patient.
How long does it take for STARS to respond?
Once STARS has accepted a mission request, the helicopter and crew are typically airborne within eight minutes.
What does STARS do to address safety?
Safety is of the highest priority for STARS. We are committed to saving lives in an environment that has the highest regard for the health and safety of patients, crew and the general public. An extensive safety and risk management program is in place for all aspects of STARS operations. Safety has been integrated into the attitude and culture of the entire organization. The medical, aviation and communications crews undergo extensive simulator and aircraft training. Safety procedures and protocols have been developed that meet or exceed regulations and standards. We have two pilots on every mission, and when flying at night, they use night vision goggles. We only use aircraft with two engines. Also, our outreach teams provide training to emergency services to secure a safe landing zone for the helicopter arrival.