GANDER, NL – With water bombers and search and rescue operations located in Gander because of its strategic central location, an air ambulance service based in central Newfoundland makes sense to Eugene Nippard.
And he’s not alone.
Nippard, chair of the Gander-based Air Ambulance Aircraft Committee, in conjunction with Patrick White, president and CEO of EVAS Air, held an information and discussion session Friday afternoon to talk about supplemental medical air ambulance services for central Newfoundland.
The session was attended by central Newfoundland municipal leaders, health care professionals, members of the business sector and Conception Bay East-Bell Island MHA David Brazil, who serves as the Opposition’s health critic.
All were in favor of establishing an air service in Gander.
The group’s case focuses on patient care and improved response times.
With the island portion of air ambulance service based in St. John’s, Florence White, chief financial officer for EVAS Air, says the best response times aren’t being utilized.
Coming from a nursing background, she understands the significance of critical care and how vital medivac times can be.
“When we’re talking critical care – someone has a heart attack, stroke or is involved in an accident – the faster you can get them care, the better the outcome is likely to be,” she said.
Comparing response times between St. John’s and Gander, all but two locations showed quicker results. Marystown and Clarenville response times would be unchanged.
Referring to a chart highlighting the time it would take from the beginning of a flight until a patient’s arrival in St. John’s, response time from St. John’s to Fogo and back would take 120 minutes. Responding from Gander would take 75 minutes, saving three-quarters of an hour.
If the Happy Valley-Goose Bay air ambulance service were down, a Gander operation could save 70 minutes for a Wabush-to-St. John’s response.
Florence White stated a Gander-based operation could result in flight time savings of 25 per cent, but because the provincial government uses third-party services to cover gaps in service, the savings are never realized.
Ian White, former director of flight operations and chief pilot with EVAS Air, has being flying medevac flights for the past 12 years. He says along with improved response times, Gander’s operational resources makes it the logical choice.
He said there’s less air traffic to contend with, less wait time on the ground, better weather conditions and less road traffic for responding crews – which all adds up to a better wheels-up time.
“All those factors combined (with better response times) gets you one hour closer to the patient,” he said. “If you save one hour on every trip, that’s more patients you can access in one shift, in one day.
“That’s a significant increase in the utilization of assets.”
There’s also plenty of infrastructure space for housing and room to build new if necessary, he said.
None of this can happen without a change in policy. The tendering process as written, according to Nippard and Patrick White, excludes Gander from the process.
“We can’t understand why they wouldn’t put out a tender to be based out of Gander, as well as St. John’s and Goose Bay,” said Nippard. “Gander is closer to the patient – in fact, when there’s a flight to Goose Bay, because the service is down for maintenance in Labrador, the plane has to travel over Gander.
“How is that providing the best response time?”
Brazil, the Opposition’s health critic, was surprised to find out Gander was excluded from the tendering process.
“The fact that it is centrally located and there are a number of other services based here because they have adequate response time – I can’t see why you would exclude somebody,” he said. “It may not necessarily mean they’ll provide the best service, but you can’t exclude somebody – particularly that has a proven track record, a community that has a multitude of other amenities that serve other parts of the province.
“(We) need to find out exactly what the rationale is, who decided that rationale, and how do we rectify it.”
The Department of Health did not immediately response to the Beacon’s interview request.