February 6, 2024 By Andrew Bates, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Telegraph-Journal
Grand Manan’s mayor says she’s feeling “relief” about plans for a permanent air ambulance on the island after more than a year of talks.
Ambulance New Brunswick, operated by Medavie Health Services, said in a press release Thursday that it had reached a contract with Voyageur Aviation to put an air ambulance aircraft on Grand Manan by September.
“Honestly, my emotion is relief that our concerns were heard and there is going to be a solution,” said Grand Manan Mayor Bonnie Morse. “For the residents of Grand Manan, the anxiety that we all feel about what happens if there is a medical emergency and someone has to get to the hospital quickly … it’s a relief to know that we’re nearing the end of this timeline that we’ve all been on.”
Air ambulance service on the island has been limited since Transport Canada rules took effect at the end of 2022 limiting flight and duty time for pilots, which led to local operators Atlantic Charter announcing it could no longer offer medevac flights.
Currently, the province’s air ambulance fleet involves a primary and secondary King Air 200 aircraft stationed in Moncton, both operated by Voyageur, and the contract would allow for a third King Air 200 that would be stationed there, ANB said.
Morse said the island’s remote location makes it “not always feasible, practical or even possible” to use the ferry for emergent or urgent medical cases that need to go to Saint John Regional Hospital. But the fog can be “fickle,” and air transport can rely on the short windows of time when it’s safe to take off or land.
“It’s simply the weather situation of having the plane here and taking advantage of those pockets when you can take off,” she said.
In August, ANB announced that the secondary King Air 200 would be stationed part-time on Grand Manan when “operational requirements” allow, but in September Brunswick News that hadn’t happened yet. Morse said Thursday that it still hadn’t started.
According to the press release, the secondary craft would become available “starting in March” while work is underway for the new plane in September.
“It was a long time waiting from the initial announcement to actually having the plane in place, but I am reassured that there are timelines in place now that we have that we can refer back to,” she said. “They feel confident that they can meet those timelines and so I have to have some faith in that as well.”
In an email to Brunswick News Thursday, ANB spokesperson Eric Robichaud said the August announcement was just that the contract had been changed “to allow work to begin towards an interim solution.”
Robichaud said 43 patients were transferred off the island via aircraft last year through to Dec. 16.
The release also said that the service would include 24/7 access to an advance care paramedic, who would have access to additional equipment and medications not currently available on the island. Robichaud said the position will require four full-time staff and one part-time staff to fill.
Morse called that “another piece of good news,” saying her understanding is the advanced care paramedic would allow some air transfers that would not have been possible without a nurse coming from Grand Manan Hospital.
She said one of the village’s biggest projects has been resurfacing the runway at the Grand Manan Airport, which was “badly needed” and wrapped up this year, allowing for “another level of support” to medevac services. Ferry service has been more challenging recently due to wind blowing from the southeast, which is more rare, and with more ambulance ferry trips needed, it makes air support “critical,” she said.
Health Minister Bruce Fitch credited the announcement to “substantial work by many partners,” and thanked everyone for “patience as work was happening behind the scenes” in the release.
“This has really been the culmination of a year-plus of working with the Department of Health and Ambulance New Brunswick,” Morse said, saying she wasn’t aware of the financial elements of the deal. “Our role has simply been to say, we need some sort of plane stationed on Grand Manan. I’m just thrilled that they’ve heard that message.”