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Manitoba grounds STARS air ambulance service

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Archive video, June 2012

Manitoba is temporarily grounding its STARS helicopter ambulance service pending a review into the death last week of a southern Manitoba woman who was transported using the service.

Health Minister Erin Selby made the announcement at a news conference at the Legislative Building late Monday afternoon. She said she took the action on the advice of medical professionals.

"Up until now I’ve been assured that STARS is providing appropriate emergency care, but concerns have been raised following a recent incident," Selby said in a statement.

"We all know STARS has played a vital role in our health-care system saving many lives every year, but we must ensure that each patient receiving care on board STARS is receiving the right care."

Late last Thursday, STARS transported a female adult patient in the Southern Health Region to Winnipeg following cardiac arrest, provincial officials said. A doctor, paramedic and critical-care nurse were on board along with all appropriate medical equipment, and the patient was cleared for takeoff, officials said.

However, the patient died after landing in Winnipeg. The case is now being investigated as a critical incident, Selby said.

"This is a tragedy in which my deepest sympathies go out to the family. I can't begin to understand the hurt they are feeling and my thoughts are with them," Selby said.

The pause in STARS service will remain in effect pending the results of the critical incident investigation, she added.

Contingency plan in place

Manitoba Health has had to take the step of temporarily suspending ground and other air ambulance services in the past until issues of concern were resolved, the province said in a news release.

A contingency plan has already been enacted during the absence of STARS, the minister said. Lifeflight and basic air-ambulance service has been expanded into southern communities and, if deemed medically necessary, physicians will accompany patients on land ambulance transfers.

Manitoba Health currently has 24 basic air ambulances and two Lifeflight jets that are always staffed by a critical care physician, who is available as part of emergency medical services in the province. They are dispatched in the same operational manner as STARS.

During the floods of 2009 and 2011, Manitoba contracted Shock Trauma Air Rescue Society (STARS) to provide specialized emergency medical services via helicopter. Based on that experience, Manitoba decided to implement a permanent helicopter-ambulance program with STARS.

Since arriving in Manitoba in 2011, the STARS helicopter ambulance has flown nearly 700 missions, resulting in more than 430 patient transports.

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