Coronavirus: STARS adjusts but course stays same in Saskatchewan

Shock Trauma Air Rescue Service (STARS) has made adjustments as it continues to fly critically ill and injured patients in Saskatchewan amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

The air ambulance service’s director of provincial operations, Cindy Seidl, says they have flown COVID-19-positive individuals.

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“I don’t have the exact number in front of me of COVID-positive patients, but we certainly have transported patients that are COVID positive,” she said.

“STARS does scene calls, which is an extension of 911, so they could be a scene call but more often with those type of patients … they’re (in) rural hospital with symptoms and they kind of deteriorate and need to be transplanted into tertiary care in either Saskatoon or Regina.”

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Seidl, who is also a flight nurse, said the virus has changed the way STARS flight crews provide emergency medical transportation.

“One of the things that has changed for us with the pandemic is our use of PPE (personal protective equipment). So pretty much every mission requires a gown, gloves, mask and shield in order to protect ourselves and the patient,” she said.

In the event that a patient is unconscious, Seidl said the answer is always the same.

“Patients that are unconscious and we can’t actually screen them, they would screen (COVID-19) positive. So a patient that is unconscious and we can’t ask them the proper question to see if they’ve had any symptoms, we would consider them to be positive,” Seidl explained.

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“So we would (then use) … personal protective equipment and then if they were on a ventilator, that’s a closed circuit. We would be fine. And if not, we would put a mask on them as well.”

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Seidl said STARS typically flies an average of about 850 missions annually in the province, has roughly 75 employees and staffs two helicopters 24/7 with a backup aircraft ready.

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“STARS first launched in Saskatchewan April 30, 2012, out of our Regina base and then the Saskatoon base started up Oct. 15, 2012,” Seidl said.

“We’re so fortunate to be here and to be part of the health-care system here in Saskatchewan. So many of our residents live (rurally) and now they have access to timely critical care transport right at the scene of their accident or emergency.”

“STARS is just one link in the chain of survival but as the system and local resources become more taxed and some of these patients that we are transporting are quite critically ill, it certainly, we are able to provide support to that community, to the patients and to those families and transport them into tertiary care in a timely and safe fashion.”

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Seidl added that COVID-19 has presents a financial challenge for the non-profit organization.

“Fifty per cent of our operating budget is supplied by the provincial government and we’re very grateful for that. And the other 50 per cent we need to do through fundraising activities,” she said.

“Many of these have been cancelled due to the restrictions put on by COVID. So certainly we’re looking for new and innovative ways to raise funds.

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“We’ve got our outdoor concert coming up on Saturday, Oct. 3, at the Turvey Centre in Regina. So basically, people will come, they’ll park in their cars and they’ll watch the concerts… so that’s kind of a new and fun way event that we’ve launched here in the province.”

STARS also operates from bases in Calgary, Edmonton, Grande Prairie and Winnipeg.

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Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:

Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.

To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. They also recommend minimizing contact with others, staying home as much as possible and maintaining a distance of two metres from other people if you go out. In situations where you can’t keep a safe distance from others, public health officials recommend the use of a non-medical face mask or covering to prevent spreading the respiratory droplets that can carry the virus. In some provinces and municipalities across the country, masks or face coverings are now mandatory in indoor public spaces.

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For full COVID-19 coverage from Global News, click here.

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