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Salmon Arm, B.C. medevacs banned from Jackson field

May 31, 2013  By The Salmon Arm Observer

May 31, 2013, Salmon Arm, B.C. - Life or death or not, emergency helicopters are no longer permitted to land in the Jackson campus field adjacent to Shuswap Lake General Hospital.

“The helicopter has always landed in the corner of the Jackson campus
nearest the hospital and they have a total protocol,” says Salmon Arm
Coun. Debbie Cannon, who heard complaints from a couple of nurses who
thought the city was responsible for shutting the flights down, adding
as much as 20 minutes to the transport of a critically ill or injured

Paul Bouchard, superintendent of the aviation branch of
the BC Ambulance Service, says Transport Canada clamped down on the use
of the school field after receiving a complaint from a resident in

“I believe Transport Canada wasn’t making a fuss
(before), but they had to respond to the complaint,” says Bouchard,
agreeing it’s unfortunate the hospital has lost a convenient and
time-saving landing site. “Now it’s documented and the only way they can
respond is by following the regulations as they’re written.”

According to Transport Canada regulations, a helicopter
may make an emergency, one-time landing in a built up area to save a
life, as long as it can be done safely –  for example moving a
critically injured patient from the scene of a crash.


“However, this caveat is not meant for routine planned
medevac flights or patient transfers to other hospitals,” says an email
from Transport Canada who, after they became aware of the helicopters
using the Jackson field, informed the BC Ambulance Service of the
“appropriate aviation regulations.”

Those regulations include the use only of a heliport,
airport or military aerodrome that meets the appropriate aviation
regulations – something Cannon describes as “re-inventing the wheel,”
and a very costly one at that.

Transport Canada notes there are 31 hospital-certified
helipads in B.C., with construction, operation and maintenance coming
from the purses of the health authorities in which they are located.

Bouchard says basic infrastructure alone to build a
helipad at Shuswap Lake General Hospital would be about $400,000 – and
that’s without a wind sock, dedicated flight paths, emergency landing
areas around the airport as required by Transport Canada, or an
operating manager or manual, says Bouchard.

A hospital heliport in a built-up area like Salmon Arm
would need to be certified, and therefore would be inspected by
Transport Canada on a regular basis.

“The regs are very clear –  as soon as you set aside a
location in a built-up area for helicopter landings, it is no longer a
one-off (one-time), and you can’t designate a site in a built-up area
when it’s not a heliport,” says Bouchard.

Lamenting the past, Cannon insists the protocols
observed by everyone involved made for safe operation at Jackson for as
long as she can remember.

“If the hospital needed to evacuate someone, they’d
call police who cleared the field, open the gate with a key that was
kept in ER and load the patient,” she says. “Now the team lands at the
Salmon Arm airport and it just seems ridiculous.”


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