Will Northern B.C. medical air transport become a reality?

The Prince George Citizen
November 24, 2014
By The Prince George Citizen
Nov. 24, 2014, Prince George, B.C. - The executive director of the Helicopter Emergency Response Operations Society (HEROS) says she should know by the end of January whether there is enough support to bring dedicated emergency medical helicopter service to northern B.C.

"What we need right now is that influx of cash to keep the ball rolling... Unfortunately, we're at the place where we're probably looking at whether this is going to fly in the next 60 days," Roberta Squire said Friday.

Although private sources have provided about $300,000 in in-kind donations, Roberta Squire said Friday that just $50,000 in cash has been raised so far - well short of the goal of $6 million to get the service off the ground and that's after finding an equipped helicopter at a bargain price.

"We have a helicopter sitting in Louisiana waiting for us," Squire said. "We found the perfect aircraft for our topography, for our environment and we found it for a million dollars less. We can get it up here for $3.8 million ready to go."

The plan is to raise enough cash from the private sector to bring the provincial government on board. On that note, Squire said she had a meeting with Prince George-Mackenzie MLA Mike Morris scheduled for late Friday afternoon.

Full-time emergency response medical helicopters and crews are based in Vancouver, Kelowna, Kamloops and Prince Rupert but in this region the service is provided by private companies on an as-needed basis.

Critics say that's not good enough when time is of the essence. Squire said this region has a pre-hospital trauma-related death rate of 82 per cent compared to just 12 per cent in Vancouver.

A dedicated service would be ready to fly within minutes of receiving a call and pilots would be equipped with night-vision technology to allow flights in darkness to remote areas in most weather conditions.

The service would respond both to work-related emergencies in the bush and to collisions on the region's highways. Over a two-month stretch last winter, 13 people died in eight collisions along Highway 16.

In addition to the capital outlay, operating the service is expected to cost about $5 million, which Squire maintains is a "drop in the bucket" compared to the amount of revenue raised for the province in this region.

The Alberta-based Shock Trauma Air Rescue Society (STARS) relies on government for 35 per cent of its funding and 65 per cent comes from the private sector.

"This is to save our families', our friends', our employees' lives and if we keep waiting, people are going to keep dying," Squire said.

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