The existing helipad behind Mills Memorial Hospital was taken out of service in 2010 when Northern Health decided not to spend $150,000 to improve the pad’s surface and to clear trees that were blocking visibility. (File Photo)

The existing helipad behind Mills Memorial Hospital was taken out of service in 2010 when Northern Health decided not to spend $150,000 to improve the pad’s surface and to clear trees that were blocking visibility. (File Photo)

Health ministry mulling over helipad for new Mills Memorial Hospital

Not a key feature of project plan but might be incorporated at some point, says health minister

The provincial health ministry is investigating the possibility of adding a helipad to the new Mills Memorial Hospital construction project.

There was uncertainty over whether the new Mills hospital would have a helipad for medevac helicopters arriving with critically ill or injured patients from more remote locations. Apart from University Hospital of Northern BC in Prince George, the new hospital will be only the second hospital in the north to offer high-end Level III trauma care services.

Announcing the new Terrace hospital in May last year, provincial health minister Adrian Dix says that while a helipad was not a key feature of the project’s business plan, it may be incorporated at some point.

Last fall a working group of health care officials was established to study the possibility of installing a helipad – the group included representatives from B.C. Emergency Health Services, the provincial agency which provides both fixed-wing and helicopter patient transportation.

“An external advisor is leading consultations with stakeholders to review fixed and rotary-wing transportation which includes the assessment of a helipad,” says Andrea Palmer from the Northern Health Authority.

“The analysis and review, including the stakeholder consultations, is currently underway and, when complete, will include some recommendations for next steps. The results of that review will inform decisions.”

READ MORE: Ambulance slides off of Hwy 37 near Terrace

The existing helipad behind Mills Hospital was taken out of service in 2010 when Northern Health decided not to spend $150,000 to improve the pad’s surface and to clear trees that were blocking visibility.

At the time, officials said nearby Northwest Regional Airport was best suited as a location where helicopters could land and transport patients via ambulance to Mills.

With a relatively short travel distance of 10 to 15 minutes, officials said patient care would not be affected.

The latest stats from the B.C. Ambulance Service from April 2018 to March 2019 indicate there were 39 air ambulance transfers to Terrace — 35 transfers to Mills Memorial and four from an accident or other scene.

“The majority of the work done by the air ambulance fleet is inter-facility transfer, not 9-1-1 emergency medical responses,” says Shannon Miller from the provincial emergency services commission.

“A majority of these patients are transported over substantial distances to definitive care using our jet aircraft because they can fly longer distances with higher altitude flights.

“Fixed-wing jet transports account for 70 per cent of the air ambulance calls – helicopters are used for 30 per cent of the calls,” she said.

A dedicated fixed-wing air ambulance based in Prince George and a dedicated rotary-wing helicopter air ambulance based in Prince Rupert handle transports in this region. Charters can also be used when necessary.

READ MORE: Security guard “bitten and punched” in Terrace hospital

Overall, from April 2018 to March 2019, there were 369 calls for air transport from Terrace, 12 of which were by helicopter.

Out of those flights, 234 went to the Vancouver Coastal Health Authority, 101 to other Northern Health facilities, 27 went to the interior, five went to Vancouver Island and two went to the Fraser Valley.

Miller did say a helipad at the new Mills Memorial could result in more inbound helicopter transport, but how many would be difficult to determine as decisions are made by the health authority at the time and are based on the severity of the situation.

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