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Put restrictions on STARS flights, report urges

Flight crew on the province's Shock Trauma Air Rescue Society helicopter ambulance service won't be able to fly kids under 12 from hospital to hospital until they have the proper backup in place at Children's Hospital.

The recommendation is one seven made in a report released Wednesday by the province on allowing the helicopter emergency service back to full flights. The report and its recommendations are the work of the province's clinical oversight committee on STARS led by University of Manitoba dean of medicine Dr. Brian Postl.

"No pediatric inter-facility transfers are going to happen before that pediatric transport team is in place," Health Minister Erin Selby said.

A process is already in place for neonatal flights, and STARS is allowed to fly children to hospitals from emergency scenes, such as vehicle collisions.

STARS was temporarily suspended from flying all medical flights last Dec. 2 following the death of a woman after an inter-hospital flight in late November. It was the third serious case in a year involving the Alberta-based helicopter air-ambulance service. One included a case in May last year involving two-year-old Morgan Moar-Campbell, who was being flown to Winnipeg 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 and severely damaging his brain. His case is the subject of a lawsuit.

On March 7, STARS was allowed to fly again by the province, but only in response to emergency scene calls. STARS was allowed to resume adult hospital-to-hospital flights July 2 when the enormity of this summer's flood threat was determined.

Postl said in the report there have been "serious issues in communication" between STARS and health department officials since STARS started flights in Manitoba about three years ago.

"This has existed for many reasons, but I note there is opportunity for improvement in the formal structure for communication," Postl said. "I would recommend an operations-liaison committee be established and they meet monthly or more frequently at the call of the chair. Agendas should be focused on information sharing and problem solving."

The panel recommended STARS pursue Canadian Medical Association accreditation and that it be integrated into the province's 911 emergency medical services system through Brandon's Medical Transportation Coordination Centre. The centre coordinates the dispatch of all rural and northern emergency medical services in the province.

As well, Manitoba Health is to complete the transfer of the STARS service purchase agreement to the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority, effective Aug. 1. This process has been underway for several months and is intended to give STARS medical crews experience in Winnipeg's emergency medical system.

STARS spokesman Cam Heke said STARS will comply with each of the recommendations.

"We strongly feel that by working with the medical community in Manitoba we can provide a world-class helicopter EMS service right here in Manitoba," Heke said.

The recommendations apply to only Manitoba and STARS operations.

STARS has been dispatched to 721 missions and has transported 486 patients since 2011.

The Manitoba government awarded STARS a 10-year contract, worth about $10 million per year, in 2013, a move criticized by the province's former auditor general, Carol Bellringer, last March for not following the province's public tendering principles and policies.

The not-for-profit STARS is also funded through corporate, community and individual donations.

bruce.owen@freepress.mb.caw

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