The Shock Trauma Air Rescue Society (STARS) helicopter air ambulance service will stay grounded until medical officials say otherwise, Health Minister Erin Selby says.
Selby said a review by the province into the quality of care by STARS and the temporary suspension of medical flights has been extended by several weeks.
"We did hope that we would have an answer for this quicker," Selby said. "We did hope that we would have the critical-incident review back in January. It's looking like we should have that back in the coming weeks."
The province suspended operations of STARS Dec. 2 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 first occurred last February and involved an adult. No details have been released. It resulted in six dispatch restrictions the province placed 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 and leaving him severely brain-damaged. His case is now the subject of a lawsuit.
The provincial review also includes an external audit of 16 other cases involving STARS and is being conducted by three Manitoba Health physicians.
"It was not an easy decision in the first place to ground STARS," Selby said. "It was not a decision made lightly and we did hope that we could find a resolution a little quicker."
Tory health critic Myrna Driedger said the government is taking too long getting STARS back in the air.
"People are worried as to why they are not hearing more about what has happened with STARS, why it's grounded for so long," she told reporters Wednesday. "I think people are wanting (Selby) to come forward and give some indication of when we can expect to have an air ambulance service back in place."
In response, Selby said STARS will start transporting patients again only when the review is complete.
She confirmed an external report looking at 16 STARS cases is almost completed and currently under review by STARS officials and its author, Dr. Stephen Wheeler of the B.C. Ambulance Service Air Ambulance Program. In the meantime, the service conducts regular training flights.
"I hope we'll have that in the coming weeks," Selby said. "STARS and Manitoba Health are working together to get it back up in the air as soon as possible, but we need to do that safely."
Selby said the province is keeping track of patients that would have been transported by STARS should it have been dispatched. To date, there are 21 incidents that would have been flown by STARS. In each instance, the 21 cases were taken to hospital by land ambulance in comparable time, she said.
The STARS service, which also operates in Alberta and Saskatchewan, is the only one of its kind in North America known to have been temporarily suspended because of concerns over patient safety.
"We are also looking at what's working at other places," Selby said. "Part (of the review) is to as well learn from what others are doing right and see what we need to do better here."
Meanwhile, construction of a new helicopter rooftop landing pad continues at the new Diagnostic Imaging Building at Health Sciences Centre. The heliport will provide direct elevator access to the Ann Thomas Building emergency rooms and operating theatres.
Selby said construction should be completed by the end of the year.