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Paramedic union cold to idea of helicopter service

January 8, 2013  By The Prince George Citizen

Jan. 8, 2013, Prince George, B.C. - The idea of a non-profit organization operating a helicopter air ambulance out of Prince George is misguided, according to the union representing B.C. paramedics.

"It sounds sexy and flashy to the
general public and the way it was put on the radio saying that there's
going to be a trauma surgeon flying around in a helicopter, but it just
doesn't sound very realistic or geared towards patient care," provincial
president of the Ambulance Paramedics of BC Bronwyn Barter said.

Northern B.C. Helicopter Emergency
Rescue Operations Society (H.E.R.O.S.) is in the process of trying to
raise in the neighbourhood of $3 million to purchase, maintain and
operate a helicopter in Prince George to service the surrounding

Proponents believe it will save lives
by providing emergency care faster than currently available by the BC
Ambulance Service. Based on the model used in Alberta, the non-profit
organization would raise much of the money needed to run the program,
with some government support required as well. With a doctor-led
approach, H.E.R.O.S. president Brent Marshall said it will be like
bringing the emergency room to a patient in a remote location.

Marshall hopes to have the service up
and running by the middle of 2013, but meeting that target could be a
challenge if Barter and her union won't sign off on the plan.


"The H.E.R.O.S. group is up against an
organization that wants to keep the status quo and protect union jobs,"
former H.E.R.O.S. executive director Hans Dysarsz said.

Although Marshall and Dysarsz said
there could be more jobs for paramedics if H.E.R.O.S. proceeds, Barter
believes a new helicopter service won't do much to improve patient care.

"Jobs or not, I think everyone needs to
focus on the patient and the scientific movement patients which the BC
Ambulance Service since 1974," she said.

Barter used the example of an accident
resulting in a head trauma near Vanderhoof. She said a H.E.R.O.S.
helicopter might direct the patient to UHNBC rather than having a BC
Ambulance Service fixed-wing aircraft fly them to Vancouver where more
specialists are located.

Barter is also worried about the cost
of the program and wondered if the money raised could be better used in
other areas to improve the health of people in the region.

"It's a very expensive thing. I can
just see this putting a lot of pressure on communities and the taxpayers
to put in a helipad in," she said. "But really, scientifically, how
much is it going to be used when an airplane would be landing and taking
the patient off to Vancouver?"

Despite the union's opposition, Prince
George-Mackenzie MLA Pat Bell has spoken out in favour of the project,
although the provincial government has yet to commit any money to the
plan. Barter is hoping to secure a meeting with health minister Margaret
MacDiarmid to find out how the government plans to proceed.

The opposition NDP is also intrigued by the plan, but aren't ready to pledge support quite yet.

"It's an interesting proposal, it's
certainly one worth looking at," NDP health critic Mike Farnworth said
Friday. "In my mind clearly there's a need in that part of the province
and in Prince George and locals are deciding they're wanting to meet
that need and trying to do something about it."

If they form government after the May
election, Farnworth said before committing to support the project the
NDP would need to take a closer look at the business plan H.E.R.O.S. has
put together and examine any other public policy implications,
including what it would mean to the BC Ambulance Service.

"There's a lot of questions that would
have to be answered and a lot of issues that would have to be addressed
and looked at," Farnworth said. "We have a first-class ambulance service
in British Columbia, but there are issues up in the north that people
want to see addressed including improvements in service."


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