November 19, 2020 By Nicholas Mercer, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Central Voice
The status of the province’s air ambulance service and the possible expansion to other areas of the province is a consistent point of discussion for Eugene Nippard.
The chairperson of the Central Newfoundland-Northeast Coast and Regions Medical Air Transport Advocacy Group has a passion for ensuring that people of this province have timely access to the critical service.
During a recent meeting of the group, the topic of adding airstrips in areas where traditionally there haven’t been any was discussed, among other items.
The group identified the Connaigre Peninsula, which includes the Harbour Breton area, and the Burgeo area as places they would like to expand to under their long-term goals.
“It is important to reach these places,” said Nippard.
The group formed in 2018 and has been pressuring the provincial government on several items related to improving the air ambulance service in the province.
They’d like to see the service centralized in Gander, with a complement of medical personnel, which they believe would allow the air ambulance to be more effective.
The medical personnel currently operate out of St. John’s, while the aircraft are housed at a couple of airports around the province. That means when a call comes in, the aircraft must leave its airport, head to the capital city to pick up the personnel and then go to where they’re needed.
Having it centralized cuts out the middle step and gets the aircraft headed to where it’s needed sooner.
“It could be done in 30 minutes,” said Nippard.
At the meeting on Nov. 6, the advocacy group met with provincial officials, including Grand Falls-Windsor-Buchans MHA Chris Tibbs, Conservative health critic and Conception Bay East-Bell Island MHA David Brazil, and Transportation and Infrastructure Minister Derrick Bragg.
Each were given information they had on the benefits of altering the layout of air ambulance services.
Previously, Nippard had conversations with Premier Andrew Furey.
The Burgeo region doesn’t have access to an airstrip.
Before there can be any talk of extending air ambulance services to the area, how to cross that sizeable chasm would need to be figured out.
Burgeo Mayor George Reid indicated incidents where an air ambulance would be required are rare in that part of the province.
He said the town isn’t in a position to make a substantial financial commitment to put an airstrip in place, but he supports the idea.
“We would have to see more information on it,” said Reid.
Nippard says the expansion of air ambulance services to areas like Burgeo and Harbour Breton is a safety necessity.
With cellular phone coverage still spotty in many areas around the province, having the lifeline of an air ambulance service is essential, he says.
“In this day and age, in the back of a road ambulance for hours, it’s a matter of life and death,” said Nippard.