Tag Archives: health care

STARS in Saskatchewan

By Kathy Heilman

The West Central Municipal Government Committee, made up of towns, villages and rural municipalities in West Central Saskatchewan learned about STARS, the Shock Trauma Air Rescue Society, from Cindy Seidl at a meeting in Landis in August. STARS operates helicopters equipped with medical equipment to help save lives. Each helicopter is staffed by two pilots, a nurse, a paramedic and sometimes an emergency room doctor.

Seidl, who was born in Wilkie and is the granddaughter of Frank and Josie Miller, and the daughter of Ken and Joan Miller of Biggar, is the Saskatoon STARS base director. She has 18 years of experience as co-ordinator with Saskatchewan Air Ambulance.

When a patient presents at a health facility in rural Saskatchewan with, for example, heart attack symptoms, there are a series of questions to answer to determine the quickest way to get help to the patient. One important factor considered is that STARS takes eight minutes to be in the air while the air ambulance needs 30 minutes. The decision is a co-ordinated effort between emergency room doctors, the transport physician, air ambulance personnel and staff at the health care facility. The decision is made in approximately 60 seconds.

STARS has a range of 250 kilometers, which is the same distance the air ambulance can travel. The air ambulance can fly higher and avoid possible bad weather but needs an air strip to land; STARS can land on a designated spot in any rural community.

In Wilkie, the landing site for STARS is presently at the Wilkie town shop. Heartland representatives at the meeting said plans are in the works to prepare a site near the health centre, to make access to the patient quicker. In Unity, STARS lands in the open field in front of the health centre.

STARS can also be accessed by calling 911, said Seidl. This usually happens when there is a motor vehicle accident or an incident in the country. The same protocol is used to determine who should go to assist. STARS can land just about any place. Those on site – fire department, police, EMTs –can indicate to the pilots the best place to land.

Once the STARS helicopter gets to Saskatoon, it lands at a designated spot at Wilson Greenhouse for patients going to Royal University Hospital (RUH). If the patient is headed to St. Paul’s Hospital, they land at the John Diefenbaker Airport. The Children’s Hospital, scheduled for completion in 2016, will have a helipad right on the building. Currently the majority of the patients transported by STARS go to RUH.

STARS does not charge for picking up patients, but Saskatchewan Health charges $350, which can be recouped with health insurance. Under a 10-year agreement with the province, STARS is funded 50 per cent by the province and 50 per cent from donations and fundraising. Their budget is $21 million a year.

Seidl said the Saskatoon base is the second busiest of all the cities that have STARS service. STARS started out in Calgary, Alta., and now operates out of Edmonton and Grande Prairie, Alta., Winnipeg, Man., and Regina as well as Saskatoon.

Please see page 3 of the September 9 issue of the Unity-Wilkie Press-Herald for additional details in the printed version of this story.

Randy Weekes, Minister of Rural and Remote Health

By Sherri Solomko

Biggar MLA Randy Weekes was appointed Saskatchewan’s Minister responsible for Rural and Remote Health in May, 2012. Last month, he was in Unity touring the health centre and meeting with staff and long term care residents.

Weekes’s main goal is to get out and visit as many rural and northern communities as possible, and to listen and learn from Saskatchewan people about their health-care concerns. He wants to get on the ground and hear, not just concerns but also some great ideas for solutions from a local perspective.

Asking Weekes about the biggest challenge in providing health care to rural residents, he responded, “Consistent and predictable access to physician services in smaller communities can be difficult. It is this government’s priority to make recruiting and retaining physicians a top priority.”

Regarding concerns on shortages of EMTs and long term care aides in Unity, Weekes said, “We know that shortages of health care workers remains an on-going challenge – especially in smaller centres. And once we’ve recruited health care workers, retaining them in a smaller community is sometimes even more difficult. We are always looking at ways to increase the complement of all health care providers – whether that’s through incentives, or more training opportunities. We’ll continue to work with the Heartland Health Region officials to ensure we have appropriate numbers of workers to meet the health care needs of patients.”

He added, “We’re often seeing a trend in the positives … such as the use of nurse practitioners in communities. Nurse practitioners have been well received in many communities that are fortunate to have one.”

He raised another issue, saying, “One other common theme is that various players in the health care system need to do a better job of communication with one another, which means the government and our health care regions have to work harder to communicate effectively with both patients and health care providers. We want to do a better job of consulting and engaging the community as a partner in the health care system …. Touring the province has been a great tool to increase outreach and communication with various communities.”

Weekes makes suggestions and presents ideas to Health Minister Dustin Duncan, based on the feedback, observations and advice he receives during visits to different communities. He said, “I … share the insights I learn on the tours with the Premier and my cabinet colleagues … I always want to ensure that the rural perspective – or rural lens – is considered when our government makes major policy or budget decisions on health care.”

Major concerns or specific requests, for example a new hospital, “are considered as part of the larger budget process.”

Weekes was “very impressed” with Unity long term care and the health centre, as well as the facilities in Wilkie. He concluded by saying, “The feedback from all avenues was very much appreciated and I would like to thank everyone at the facilities for their commitment and dedication to providing health care services in this province.”

Minister Weekes can be contacted by at randyweekes.mla@accesscomm.ca, (306) 798-9014 or Room 208, Legislative Building, 2405 Legislative Drive, Regina, S4S 0B3. More information about him and his portfolio is at www.gov.sk.ca/health.