MILLS MEMORIAL Hospital has been with out the use of its helipad for nine months, and those involved say emergency services have not been affected in Terrace.
The helipad was shut down Dec. 1 of last year because of a required $150,000 in upgrades, said the director of business for the Northern Health Authority, Finlay Sinclair.
Sinclair said the decision was made in cooperation with the hospital, and that fixing the helipad was not something the authority wanted to spend health care dollars on, especially when a local airport is so near by.
“We made the decision to move those services to the airport and not have to maintain and upgrade the helipad,” Sinclair said.
He said the helipad needed improvements with the grade around it, the slop and in terms of grading, slope and the actual finish of the pad.
There were also issues with trees blocking visibility, snow removal and lighting. Sinclair said they also took into account the comfort of pilots and the safety of paramedics.
“When there is a viable option close to the hospital then we move to that option – especially when it’s an airport,” Sinclair continued.
Sinclair said in the north airports are almost always the preferred option for health care facilities, and this includes the hospital in Prince George.
Dr. Geoff Apppleton is the Northern Health Authority’s regional medical director, and said shutting down the helipad has not affected patient care.
“The time saved having a chopper landing at the hospital rather than the airport is very small indeed,” Appleton said.
He said at the most you would save 10 to 15 minutes and rare is the situation where that time period is critical.
Appleton said it is different for major cities where you are looking at a long travel times by road.
“In our part of the world, it is not quite the same,” he said.
Appleton also points out that having a helipad so close to the hospital can represent a danger in regards to crashes and fires.
“I think there is a significant safety factor there as well,” he said.
The BC Ambulance Service (BCAS) said that most patients in the north are transported via aircraft, and so were being flown into the airport here anyway.
“Really in the north we don’t move a lot of patients by helicopter,” Sinclair said, although he adds the one exception to this is Prince Rupert, where some remote locations need to use a helicopter to reach the city.
In 2010 and 2011 the BCAS says only seven percent of air-transported patients in this area were moved by helicopter.
Kelsie Carwithen from the BCAS said the remaining 93 per cent were transported by airplane, met with a ground ambulance and then taken to Mills Memorial Hospital.