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Manitoba to privatize Lifeflight air ambulance

The province has decided to end the Lifeflight air ambulance service and will turn it over to a private company before the end of the month.

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

The province has decided to end the Lifeflight air ambulance service and will turn it over to a private company before the end of the month.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 6/6/2019 (432 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The Pallister government has clipped the wings of the provincial Lifeflight air ambulance service and will turn it over to a private company before the end of the month.

In a Thursday afternoon news release, following a 3 p.m. meeting between Lifeflight medical staff and mechanics, the province said it will ground its two Cessna Citation aircraft — which handle about 50 per cent of the medical transportation calls — and replace them with private carriers. (The remainder of flights already use private carriers.)

A spokesman for Manitoba Minister of Infrastructure Ron Schuler said the air ambulance service, which covers areas outside a 200-kilometre radius around Winnipeg, will continue to be safe for Manitobans in need of its help.

SASHA SEFTER / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

A spokesman for Manitoba Minister of Infrastructure Ron Schuler said the air ambulance service, which covers areas outside a 200-kilometre radius around Winnipeg, will continue to be safe for Manitobans in need of its help.

A spokesman for Infrastructure Minister Ron Schuler said the air ambulance service, which covers areas outside a 200-kilometre radius around Winnipeg, will continue to be safe for Manitobans in need of its help.

"The safety of all Manitobans is government's top priority," the spokesman said. "These changes are being made to ensure the ongoing safety of the service, in response to staffing challenges... staffing challenges have necessitated immediate efforts to ensure the safe operation of the program moving forward."

Dr. Renate Singh, medical director for Lifeflight, said the announcement "comes as a surprise to all the Lifeflight physicians."

"We have no comment on the future of our involvement... We will be having discussions about it."

Michelle Gawronsky, president of the Manitoba Government and General Employees' Union, which represents Lifeflight nurses, clerical staff, pilots and maintenance crew, said staff came out of the meeting in shock.

"It came out of left field," Gawronsky said during a hastily-called news conference.

"It is absolutely shameful that this government would not listen to the doctors, the nurses, the the pilots and the maintenance staff who have all — for months now — been telling them this is a risky move."

The move comes after 16 medical doctors from Lifeflight penned a letter to the province, saying the rush to privatize the service has seen "a complete lack of medical consultation in the process."

"These are highly skilled and trained medical professionals, with years of critical life-saving experience, but again the government would not listen," Gawronsky said.

Michelle Gawronsky, President of MGEU, which represents Lifeflight nurses, clerical staff, pilots and maintenance crew, said staff were shocked by the province's decision.

TREVOR HAGAN/ WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

Michelle Gawronsky, President of MGEU, which represents Lifeflight nurses, clerical staff, pilots and maintenance crew, said staff were shocked by the province's decision.

The union leader said the only reason the government found it difficult to recruit new staff in the last year was its request for proposal for private carriers to operate government air services had created job security uncertainty.

Opposition Leader Wab Kinew accused the government of "starving the air ambulances to pave the way for privatization, and that's what we're seeing now."

"They've allowed the service to deteriorate to such a point that they now have to retire these jets and they're going to replace it with a private operation," the NDP leader said. "That should be a concern because air ambulance serves a ton of people across the province.

"It's when people are the sickest and they need to be transported urgently to Winnipeg or to another centre for acute care," Kinew said. "This looks like another mistake that the government's making in health care."

Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont said the Pallister government "has been reckless in handling emergency services."

"The PCs have bungled this file. Pilots started to bail after the PCs threatened to privatize, destabilizing the service," he said. "Sheer incompetence."

Lamont said if a private company replaces the jets Lifeflight uses with turboprop planes, that would be "a serious downgrade in service.

"Private aircraft cannot land in over two dozen northern communities and turboprops take hours longer."

kevin.rollason@freepress.mb.ca

Kevin Rollason

Kevin Rollason
Reporter

Kevin Rollason is one of the more versatile reporters at the Winnipeg Free Press. Whether it is covering city hall, the law courts, or general reporting, Rollason can be counted on to not only answer the 5 Ws — Who, What, When, Where and Why — but to do it in an interesting and accessible way for readers.

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History

Updated on Thursday, June 6, 2019 at 10:19 PM CDT: Updates story.

June 7, 2019 at 6:29 PM: adds sidebar

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