A BC air ambulance operated by Helijet

Still no word on air ambulance helipads at new North Island hospitals

What if BC air ambulances can’t land at either of the two new hospitals in Campbell River and the Comox Valley?

That’s what has the regional hospital board so worried that they’re spending $2,700 on a freedom of information request to Island Health.

But Island Health doesn’t have any answers on the helicopter issue yet either, because the decision rests with Transport Canada.

Campbell River councillor Charlie Cornfield, who is chair of the Comox Strathcona Regional Hospital District, said time is running out to make a plan B if the new hospital helipads don’t meet requirements.

Both new hospitals are scheduled to open this fall. Under the construction contract, both were required to have H2 certified helipads on the roofs.

Cornfield said the issue is of particular concern in Campbell River because of the number of logging camps on the North Island where serious accidents can happen, not to mention boating and tourism-related activities.

That “miracle half hour” of emergency response time is all important, he said.

“Given the particular importance of the resource-based industries and the remote locations around the North Island, providing access to the most broad range of helicopter sizes and styles is crucial to the health of our communities,” Cornfield wrote in a May 30 letter to the hospital board directors.

Campbell River council also has concerns, and in 2016 commissioned a report by Mobius Architecture on the heliport design, “which identified that the design of the building and geographic features of the site would only enable an approach and landing for single H1 helicopters.”

Campbell River city council subsequently forwarded this report, in confidence, to the Island Health Authority and the regional hospital board.

“We want to make sure the hospitals are accessible as possible to helicopters,” said Cornfield last week. “If we can’t have that kind of access directly, what’s the alternative? We need to start working on it sooner rather than later.”

Cornfield said Transport Canada has been making changes to how it interprets helipad regulations.

Last year, numerous B.C. hospitals, including Nanaimo, had their helipads downgraded.

That left Helijet, which provides air ambulances to the provincial government, scrambling because its Sikorksy S-76C+ helicopters weren’t allowed.

A temporary exemption order was granted by Transport Canada to allow service to continue while Helijet and Transport Canada worked out regulatory issues.

In the meantime, Island Health says it continues to wait on Transport Canada. In an official statement last week, the health authority said:

“Transport Canada determines classification for heliports based on their regulations, guidelines, and safety standards.

“Heliport certification is a multi-stage process and it will be several months before this process is complete.

“We anticipate the new Campbell River campus and Comox Valley campus heliports will receive certification from Transport Canada once the North Island Hospital is complete.

“Island Health will comply with all of the Transport Canada requirements related to the operation of the heliports at the new hospital campuses”.

Cornfield said other than the helipad issue, “everything’s going great” so far with the new hospitals.

He said the two hospitals are not only state-of-the-art, but are the “best on the face of the planet … as good as you can get.”

Cornfield said officials from as far away as Europe have visited to look at the projects.

“It’s just been amazing. We’re fortunate to get first class hospitals,” he said.