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STARS resumes emergency flights

It is still to be determined when the helicopter air ambulance service will be allowed to transport patients from hospital to hospital, or inter-agency transfers.

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It is still to be determined when the helicopter air ambulance service will be allowed to transport patients from hospital to hospital, or inter-agency transfers.

The Shock Trauma Air Rescue Society (STARS) air ambulance is back in the air, but as of noon today only allowed to respond to emergency calls.

It is still to be determined when the helicopter air ambulance service will be allowed to transport patients from hospital to hospital, or inter-agency transfers.

Health Minister Erin Selby said the resumption of emergency flight comes with increased training for air medical staff, including working at busier STARS bases in Alberta and Saskatchewan.

"The medical review process has been concluded, our medical team has signed off on the changes to address patient safety issues to its satisfaction and STARS will now be resuming emergency calls," Selby said. "This is an important first step to getting STARS back into full service for Manitoba families and for emergency medical service in this province."

STARS was suspended by the province in early December after three critical incidents in less than a year, including the death of a female patient with cardiac arrest three days earlier. Each incident involved issues with intubation and proper delivery of oxygen.

The province ordered an external review of 16 cases involving STARS and contracted Dr. Stephen Wheeler of the B.C. Ambulance Service Air Ambulance Program to do it. Wheeler submitted his initial report in December, but STARS officials balked, citing several inaccuracies. A redacted version of the report, removing patient information, was released today.

The first critical incident occurred last February and involved an adult; no details have been released. It resulted in six dispatch restrictions being placed by the province on STARS, including the type of patient the service could fly and the distance it could transport patients.

The second critical incident was last May, and involved two-year-old Morgan Moar-Campbell, who was being flown from Brandon on a STARS helicopter for tests following a seizure. The boy was in an induced coma and could not breathe on his own. When he landed in Winnipeg, it was discovered his breathing tube had become dislodged, depriving him of oxygen ad leaving him severely brain damaged. His case is now the subject of a lawsuit.

Andrea Robertson, CEO of the Alberta-based STARS, said the non-profit rescue service welcomes the government’s decision and will abide by new training requirements for air medical crews.

Selby said the creation of a new clinical oversight panel under U of M dean of medicine Dr. Brian Postl will provide guidance for helicopter air-ambulance service on future training, accreditation for personnel, and quality assurance for clinical operations leading up to resumption of inter-facility transfers.

Members of the panel are: Dr. Renate Singh, associate medical director, Manitoba Air Ambulance; Dr. Doug Eyolfson, associate medical director, Medical Transportation Coordination Centre; Dr. Doug Martin, base associate medical director, STARS Winnipeg; Dr. J.N. Armstrong, chief medical officer, STARS; Dr. Tony Herd, associate medical director, Manitoba Ground Ambulance; and Arlene Wilgosh, CEO, Winnipeg Regional Health Authority (WRHA) or her designate.

The province will also transfer the STARS service to the WRHA from Manitoba Health, to oversee the province's arrangement with STARS. This will enable medical crews to train in Winnipeg's emergency and critical-care medical system.

Since arriving in Manitoba in 2011, STARS has flown 676 missions resulting in the transportation of 439 patients.

STARS is funded by the province under a 10-year agreement, worth $10-million per year, signed in February 2012. STARS is also funded through corporate, community and individual donations, including a lottery.

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