B.C. Emergency Health Services has based its first air ambulances dedicated to serve Vancouver Island communities in Nanaimo and Parksville.
One helicopter and one plane have started responding to patients on the Island, the Gulf Islands and Sunshine Coast.
According to a B.C. Emergency Health Services press release issued Tuesday, the organization has traditionally called for air ambulance response from Vancouver, or to contractors on the Island for help when a patient requires an air ambulance transport to hospital. That emergency air response will now be launched from the mid Island with a helicopter and plane to quickly transport patients from rural and remote communities such as Port Hardy, Tofino and Gold River to medical centres with higher levels of care in Nanaimo, Victoria and Vancouver.
The added air resources come with increased staffing that includes five critical care paramedics, doubling the number of critical care paramedics in the Nanaimo region.
The Island-dedicated air ambulance services started in mid-November and immediately began logging two to three patient air responses a day, including a recent response to a traumatic motor vehicle crash on the Island Highway, the airlift of a patient who fell from a roof near Qualicum and the transfer of a critically injured patient from Nanaimo Regional General Hospital to Victoria in a 20-minute long flight that avoided a lengthy trip by ground ambulance.
BCEHS has partnered with Ascent Helicopters for the air ambulance helicopter, a specialized MD Helicopters MD902 with night-vision technology, to be based in Parksville, and Alkan Air which has contracted to BCEHS one of its turbo-prop planes operating out of Nanaimo Airport.
“As Islanders, we know our communities, local landscape, geography and weather. Our mid-Island location means we can respond quickly and most efficiently to the south, the north and the west coasts,” said Trent Lemke, Ascent Helicopters president and CEO, in the press release.
The BCEHS air ambulance program is made up of a dedicated fleet of six helicopters and 10 planes that respond to critical patient hospital transfers and to emergency 911 medical calls. About 90 per cent of air ambulance responses are transfers between hospitals.
Helicopters, based in Parksville, Vancouver, Kamloops, Prince George and Prince Rupert, are generally more efficient for short distances of less than 250 kilometres and responding to accident scenes, or to transport patients rooftop to rooftop between two hospitals, says BCEHS. Transports longer than 250 kilometres are better handle by planes, based in Vancouver, Nanaimo, Kelowna, Prince George and Fort St. John. BCEHS can also call upon more than 30 pre-qualified air carriers around the province to provide service as needed.
BCEHS responds to more than 7,000 patients requiring air ambulance transport annually.