Raising concerns about another Pallister government untendered contract which will result in poorer service to Manitobans
On September 14th, we raised concerns about the Pallister government's untendered contract which will sadly mark the end of the provincial Lifeflight program. Lifeflight has operated for 35 years and has provided amazing emergency medical service for people living in northern and remote communities.
One aspect of the changes that the Pallister government has made in the last two years, is that the time for the air ambulance plane under STARS will be much longer than it used to be for many years under Lifeflight. Lifeflight operated with two Citation jet planes which were much faster than the Super King Turboprop planes which the Pallister government has replaced them with. This means that if there is an emergency medical call to Gillam, Shamattawa or Leaf Rapids it now takes 2 hours to get there, whereas before it took an hour and fifteen minutes. The extra 45 minutes could in some cases mean the difference between life and death. What is also troubling is that this means considerably longer to get a person back to Winnipeg for emergency surgery. For these three communities, it now takes 4 hours where it used to take two and a half hours. The extra time to get a person with an emergency back to Winnipeg is disturbing. In my view, it is very sad that the Pallister government has reduced the quality of the emergency medical service to northern Manitoba in this way. It is important to note that it is not just these three communities. All northern communities now have much longer times to receive emergency medical care. Our full press release is below.
PCs Used Untendered Contract to Kill Manitoba’s Public Air Ambulance Service, Sell to Company with PC Ties
TREATY 1 TERRITORY, WINNIPEG, MB – Manitoba Liberals say the PCs used an untendered contract to kill off Lifeflight, a 35-year public air ambulance company that served rural and Northern Manitoba, and have handed the business to an Alberta company, STARS, whose “Director of Development” is Colleen Mayer, a former PC Minister who was defeated in last year’s election.
Lifeflight was a top-quality air ambulance service that served rural and northern Manitoba, from towns such as Dauphin, Churchill, Thompson, and The Pas, to more than two dozen fly-in First Nations.
The PCs started destabilizing and undermining Lifeflight by selling away the fully-equipped jet ambulance that quickly brought doctors and nurses to remote communities — some of which lacked hospitals, ERs or doctors. Despite repeated promises from Infrastructure Minister Ron Schuler that the service would not be privatized if the quality of service would be worse, Manitoba Liberal Health Critic Jon Gerrard says that is exactly what has happened.
“The PCs decision to use slower planes that can’t fly above bad weather has added hours to round-trip flights to remote communities, like Churchill, Tadoule Lake, Gillam and many First Nations,” said Gerrard. “If you’ve had a stroke, a heart attack or a serious accident, northern communities are going to have to an hour longer for first responders, and two hours longer to get back to an ER or ICU. Northern Manitobans’ should be worth the same as everyone else, but it’s not clear the Pallister PCs feel the same way.”
Manitoba Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont said that the Stars deal raises a number of red flags, given the company’s record of problems dating back years, in Manitoba and across Canada.
STARS’ first contract in 2011, an untendered contract for $159-million under the NDP, resulted in an investigation and report by the Auditor General of Manitoba, which concluded that “costs-per-mission were likely to be 231% to 618% higher than other province’s programs.”
In 2014, the Manitoba government had to ground STARS after three patients were deprived of oxygen on flights. One woman died and a 2014 review by B.C. Doctor Brian Wheeler found that, “STARS air ambulance crews lack adequate training, are not familiar with pediatric patients and do not understand patient oxygen needs.”
In 2019, the Auditor General of Saskatchewan called for more oversight of the province’s STARS service.
Charity Intelligence, an independent agency that assesses Canadian charities, gave STARS a B- for its results reporting and pointed out that 26 cents of every dollar donated is spent on administration. STARS’ average compensation is $104,736, and the top ten salaries at the company are all over $160,000. The CEO makes over $350,000, and the company has over $40-million in reserves.
In 2001, the PC government in Nova Scotia chose not to renew STARS contract. At the time, Health Minister Jamie Muir told CBC, “the Tory government had fundamental differences with STARS,” and that, “STARS is a non-profit group which does corporate fundraising in an effort to offset its budget, and Muir says that made the province uncomfortable.”
“The Pallister PCs have taken an essential emergency service and used an untendered contract to hand it to a private not-for-profit whose local rep is a former PC Minister,” said Lamont. “The PCs promised not to privatize this service and they did. It’s clear they are more interested in feathering their friends’ nests than looking after Manitobans’ health or jobs.”