Provincial Government Announces Changes to Provincial Air Ambulance Program

Health and Community Services
Transportation and Works
March 25, 2010

Following the completion and analysis of a review of air ambulance services in Labrador and Northern Newfoundland, the Provincial Government today announced it will change and enhance the provincial air ambulance program.

Through an investment of $8.7 million in Budget 2010, the Provincial Government will replace the existing aging aircraft in St. John’s, add a second medical flight team to the air ambulance program in the province and, based on the results of the review, relocate the air ambulance service to Happy Valley-Goose Bay from St. Anthony to provide better response times for transfers. The Honourable Jerome Kennedy, Minister of Health and Community Services, was joined today by the Honourable Tom Hedderson, Minister of Transportation and Works, for the announcement.”Our government recognizes the importance of responding to health care needs in all regions of our province and I am pleased today to announce changes to the provincial air ambulance program,” said Minister Kennedy. “Residents of our province need to have an air ambulance program that is reliable and ensures patients are transported in a timely manner to access health care services.”

The Provincial Government received the final report of the review of air ambulance services and the corresponding list of recommendations on March 19, 2010. The report included recommendations on the location of air ambulance services and additional resources required.

An investment of $700,000 in Budget 2010, amounting to an annual investment of $1.1 million, will support the implementation of a second medical flight specialist team to be located in Happy Valley-Goose Bay. This new flight team will significantly enhance patient care by providing additional medical professionals locally and reducing patient wait times for those needing to travel to other parts of the province for required medical treatment.

“Currently there is only one medical flight team located in St. John’s which causes considerable delay in circumstances where the plane must fly to St. John’s to pick up the team before then flying to pick up the patient for transfer,” said Minister Kennedy. “By establishing a second flight team, to be located with the air ambulance aircraft, we will ensure that the response time to emergency situations will be significantly reduced since a team will not be required to fly to the Labrador region from St. John’s.”

The review of air ambulance services recommended that the air ambulance aircraft be moved from St. Anthony to Happy Valley-Goose Bay. According to statistics contained in the report, there are more patient transfers from Labrador than from St. Anthony. The report recommended that the air ambulance be centrally located to serve the population of Labrador City, Wabush, Happy Valley-Goose Bay, Churchill Falls, the South Coast of Labrador, the North Coast of Labrador and the St. Anthony-Port au Choix region.

“According to flight statistics from 2006 to 2009, there are twice as many patient pickups from Labrador as compared to St. Anthony and the report states that the population base of Labrador supports that the second air ambulance aircraft and medical flight team be centrally located in Happy Valley-Goose Bay,” said Minister Kennedy. “Based on the results of the review, we believe the movement of the air ambulance program to a central location will provide timely response times for residents of Labrador and Northern Newfoundland when air ambulance transfer is required. While I know the residents of St. Anthony will be disappointed that this service is being relocated, we must do what is in the best interests of the people who rely upon this service based upon the recommendations of this independent, thorough review. I want to assure the people of St. Anthony that they will continue to receive good service from the air ambulance program.”

The current air ambulance based in St. John’s is approximately 20 years old and will be replaced with a new Beechcraft King Air 350. The aircraft will provide transportation for residents of the province in the event of health emergencies. It is equipped to carry two stretchers, medical equipment and supplies, along with four medically-trained personnel and two pilots. In 2008, a new King Air aircraft became operational in St. Anthony, made possible by a $7.8 million investment by the Provincial Government. The aircraft, which is located in St. Anthony, will be moved to Happy Valley-Goose Bay along with a new medical flight team.

“The purchase of a new air ambulance to replace the aging aircraft in St. John’s will bring improved reliability to this vitally important service,” said Minister Hedderson. “A new aircraft will mean less down-time due to a less frequent need for inspections, maintenance and repairs and will serve as a cornerstone in our efforts to provide high quality emergency medical transportation services to people throughout the province.”

The review was conducted by Wes Drodge of WJD Consulting Inc., a consultant with over 30 years senior management experience in the health care sector and acknowledges the important role the air ambulance service plays in the delivery of health care in the province.

It contains eight recommendations:

1. The air ambulance aircraft should be located in Happy Valley-Goose Bay to serve the people of Labrador and Northern Newfoundland;
2. There should be a second medical flight specialist team stationed in Happy Valley-Goose Bay to accompany the air ambulance aircraft to be located there;
3. The aircraft flight crews and the medical flight specialist teams must be sufficiently staffed to provide a 24/7 level of service;
4. There must be aircraft available to provide a 24/7 level of service;
5. To ensure consistent training and to maintain competence, the teams should rotate as necessary;
6. The air ambulance service should be organized as a single program with a single administrative structure;
7. Data gathering, reporting and analysis must be standardized; and,
8. If a third aircraft were to be considered it should be located in Deer Lake.

“The investments we have announced today will go a long way in enhancing the current air ambulance program,” said Minister Kennedy. “Our government is committed to providing quality health care services to all residents of the province. To that end, we will review the remaining recommendations in the report to determine how the service may be further enhanced.”

Full review of air ambulance services in Labrador and Northern Newfoundland
Video of Ministers’ News Conference

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Media contacts:

Tansy Mundon
Director of Communications
Department of Health and Community Services
709-729-1377, 685-2646

Roger Scaplen
Director of Communications
Department of Transportation and Works
709-729-3015, 697-5267

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