Critical Condition

STARS could work in B.C. in time

Experts say it would take a significant political push and a hybrid approach to launch STARS in B.C.

Mike Lamacchia, Vice President Operations for Shock Trauma Air Rescue Service (STARS)

While the STARS air ambulance model has been tried and tested in rural Alberta and other provinces, experts say it would take a significant political push and a hybrid approach to launch in B.C.

Mike Lamacchia, vice president operations for Shock Trauma Air Rescue Service (STARS) in Alberta and Saskatchewan, said it would come down to political will.

“As we’ve done with the Saskatchewan and Manitoba governments, they liked the way the STARS model was implemented in Alberta and they came to us. Only the B.C. government can assess what their needs are,” Lamacchia said. “It has to be at the highest level in the provincial government, they’re the ones who initiate a formal request to STARS, working with their team within the health system to make it happen.”

Lamacchia said his organization is very open to the possibilities and they would build on the best practices they’ve established in other provinces.

“If the province of B.C. came to us and asked to help them understand how the model works, that’s our mandate, to help. That’s what we’re here for. It has to come from them, as an organization we’d be willing to participate in any way that we can help. Our passion is health care in this country. A patient in B.C. or a patient in Alberta is a patient. We need to do our best,” he said.

Lamacchia stressed that preplanning and project timing are the keys to having a system up and running in a relatively short time span.

“If you have the will from the government, and from geopolitical teams across the province, it could be as little as one year to upwards of three years … it depends on the model,” Lamacchia said.

“As with anything you’ve just got to get started. You need energy from both sides — a good dedicated team, a strong commitment from the province, and from the community.”

Lamacchia is responsible for the operation of STARS bases across Alberta and Saskatchewan, as well as the STARS Emergency Link Centre. He said it took many years for the successful STARS model to evolve into what it is today — a world-class integrated health delivery services program with transportation at its core.

“Working closely with the community partners was key. The local 4-H Club and the Lions were big supporters within STARS and places like Hanna and Taber really jumped on board,” Lamacchia said.

“It grew from grassroots, and over time they started to work with the municipality, the provincial government, and created a service agreement with different health regions. They primarily worked with the Calgary health region in a fee-for-service agreement. What really sustained us was the STARS Foundation working with corporate Alberta and the citizens. The energy sector is a huge supporter. There have been many hands that have helped us.”

It all became monumental in 2010 when STARS signed a 10-year service agreement with Alberta Health Services, Lamacchia said.

“As of now, 76 per cent of funding comes from corporate philanthropy and private philanthropy and 24 per cent comes from the province,” he noted. “It’s working and it’s a collaboration. We’re a service provider to Alberta Health and we’re working with their needs. We leave it up to Alberta Health to drive policy and funding, but our mandate for the province is the delivery of care and transport.”

One complicating factor in setting up a full STARS model in B.C. — it isn’t just a template that can be slapped into place in a new province.

“Every provincial jurisdiction has differences in geography, remoteness and small populations,” Lamacchia pointed out.

Executive director of the emergency medical care advocacy group BC HEROS (BC Helicopter Emergency Rescue Operations Society), Hans Dysarsz, agreed but says it could work with a hybrid approach.

“In B.C., due to our topography and existing model — a single service provider for EMS — we would have to create a blended program that is better suited to a B.C. application than an off-the-shelf model used in other jurisdictions. We need a made-in-B.C. medical air rescue program,” Dysarsz said.

Lamacchia said there is an existing set of criteria that needs to be in place before it can happen.

“You’re going to need four distinct checkboxes: There has to be a patient need, you’ve got to have support from the funding side and that connects to the government, you’ve got to have the geopolitical or local municipal government on side, and the fourth is you have to have the people,” Lamacchia said.

A popular misconception is that STARS is just a fleet of red helicopters.

“We’re more than just a helicopter program, we have a very integrated approach,” Lamacchia said.

“We have transport physicians out of three centres and our mandate is to provide referral and advice for all critically ill and injured patients. We ascertain the best mode of transport and the physician support team. A real key part that a lot of people don’t see is that we’re more than the red helicopter, as we also provide a great critical care team.”

Alberta’s funding model is unique, Lamacchia admitted, but he said over time a similar ratio could work in B.C.

“In Alberta, we’re blending support from governments (24 per cent), the business community, and individual donors (76 per cent), and that gives us financial stability as well as the ability to fundraise for excellence,” Lamacchia said.

“Governments at all levels are subject to many economic, political, and community priorities. If we rely exclusively on government funding, we cannot maintain our vital program and keep it cutting edge. The support of our donors fuels our innovation. From medical equipment and procedures to aviation tools like night vision goggles to training aids like human patient simulators — none of this would be possible without investment from the community. We raise $11 million in the STARS lottery per year.”

The grassroots fundraising approach creates ownership in Alberta, Lamacchia said, and this grassroots support would be critical to make it happen in B.C.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

 

Just Posted

Voters in Saanich North and the Islands, here lining up outside Sidney’s Mary Winspear Centre on the first day of advanced voting, are among the provincial leaders in getting in their votes early, with some 20 per cent (10,174) of eligible voters have already cast their ballots. (Wolf Depner/News Staff)
It’s Election Day in B.C.: Here’s what you need to know to vote

B.C.’s snap election has already broken records for advance voter turnout, mail-in ballots

Plastic Ocean by Oak Bay resident Gabriela Hirt is in the Federation of Canadian Artist’s “Crisis” exhibition on now in Vancouver. (Gabriela Hirt/cropped to fit)
Oak Bay artist wins juried show in Vancouver

Pair of Oak Bay artists part of ‘Crisis’ exhibition

The M’akola Housing Society is looking to build two new residences in Sooke to help provide affordable accommodation for local Indigenous people. The projects were granted nearly $1.1 million toward their construction through the Regional Housing Trust Fund. (Photo courtesy M’Akola Housing Society)
Regional Housing First Program strikes another chord in Greater Victoria

Affordable housing partnership grants will help house over 100 people on income assistance

Online reservation service, First Table, allows Victoria diners to have dinner at half-price if they’re willing to be flexible about when they go. (Black Press Media file photo)
New reservation service allows Victoria residents to dine out at half price

First Table gives Victoria diners 50 per cent off when they book tables during off-peak hours

Kwick’kanum (Eric Pelkey), a hereditary chief of the Tsawout Nation, addressed the crowd that gathered at Mount Newton Cross Road and Highway 17 on Oct. 23. (Devon Bidal/News Staff)
UPDATED: Pat Bay Highway reopens after rally supporting Mi’kmaq fishing rights

Supporters call on government to recognize Indigenous treaty rights

B.C. provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry gives a daily briefing on COVID-19 cases at an almost empty B.C. Legislature press theatre in Victoria, B.C., on March 25, 2020. (Don Craig/B.C. government)
B.C. sees 223 new COVID-19 cases, now 2,009 active

Two new care home outbreaks in Surrey, Burnaby

Advance polls are open from Oct. 15 to 21 with election day on Oct. 24. (Black Press Media file photo)
100 Mile Conservation officer Joel Kline gingerly holds an injured but very much alive bald eagle after extracting him from a motorist’s minivan. (Photo submitted)
B.C. driver thought he retrieved a dead bald eagle – until it came to life in his backseat

The driver believed the bird to be dead and not unconscious as it turned out to be

Chastity Davis-Alphonse took the time to vote on Oct. 21. B.C’s general Election Day is Saturday, Oct. 24. (Chastity Davis-Alphonse Facebook photo)
B.C. reconciliation advocate encourages Indigenous women to vote in provincial election

Through the power of voice and education Chastity Davis-Alphonse is hopeful for change

White Rock RCMP Staff Sgt. Kale Pauls has released a report on mental health and policing in the city. (File photos)
White Rock’s top cop wants to bill local health authority for lengthy mental-health calls

‘Suggestion’ included in nine-page review calling for ‘robust’ support for healthcare-led response

A Le Chateau retail store is shown in Montreal on Wednesday July 13, 2016. Le Chateau Inc. says it is seeking court protection from creditors under the Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act to allow it to liquidate its assets and wind down its operations.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Clothing retailer Le Chateau plans to close its doors, files for CCAA protection

Le Chateau said it intends to remain fully operational as it liquidates its 123 stores

Green party Leader Sonia Furstenau arrives to announce her party’s election platform in New Westminster, B.C., on October 14, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C. Green party says it’s raised nearly $835,000 in 38 days

NDP Leader John Horgan is holding his final virtual campaign event

U.S. border officers at the Peace Arch crossing arrested two men on California warrants this week. (File photo)
Ottawa predicts system delays, backlogs unless court extends life of refugee pact

Canada and the United States recognize each other as safe places to seek protection