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New landing site for medevacs
Edmonton facility provides superior services to patients, despite being farther away from hospitals: medical director

Laura Busch
Northern News Services
Published Friday, May 17, 2013

After years of planning and debate over what to do about Northern medevac flights after it became clear Edmonton's City Centre Airport would be closed to all air traffic, NWT medevac planes began landing at a new facility at Edmonton International Airport on Tuesday.

NNSL photo/graphic

Shock Trauma Air Rescue Society (STARS) paramedic Angela Mazzolini conducts a simulation with a mannequin inside one of the society's new AW139 helicopters. STARS and medevac planes now share the new Air Operations Centre at the Edmonton International Airport. - photo courtesy of Alberta Health Services

Now, medevacs land at a special air ambulance base at the international airport. Although Edmonton International Airport is located 21 km farther away from the University of Alberta Hospital, and 23.7 km farther from Royal Alexandra Hospital, the new facility provides many patient services that the old landing site did not, said Dr. Jim Corkal, medical director at Stanton Territorial Health Authority.

"The new facilities and the new structure, they've done a very good job. I'm not concerned about the patients' safety at all," he said. "The plans and the operations they've put into the change are stellar."

All medevac flights into Edmonton now taxi directly to a 3,600-square-metre hangar built especially for air ambulances, stated Dr. Ian Phelps, senior medical director for Alberta Health Services Emergency Medical Services, in an e-mail response to Yellowknifer.

"The space will allow patients to be transferred inside, instead of out on the tarmac," he stated. "The hangar also features a six-bed patient transition area for stable patients. This area has EMS staff on hand to provide care to patients for short periods of time."

Medevac airplanes share the hangar with the Shock Trauma Air Rescue Society, which operates a fleet of medical helicopters.

If a patient is critically injured and time is of the essence, they can now be transferred directly from a plane to a waiting helicopter - a procedure called a "hop transfer" - and flown directly to hospital, said Corkal.

There is also a fleet of ground ambulances based in the new hangar, along with the medical dispatch centre for all air ambulances operating in Northern Alberta. This allows for better co-ordination between medical staff during a patient transfer, which was put to the test Tuesday when the first NWT patient arrived in the hangar from Stanton Territorial Hospital. Corkal said the first transfer - which wasn't an emergency situation - went well.

"It's more than just switching the facilities," said Corkal. "Changeover for our crews will be much quicker in terms of being able to come back up. That's the other end of it, we only have the three medevac planes in the North and if one of them is down in Edmonton and is delayed for eight hours or so, they can't go and pick somebody else up from, say, Fort Liard or Fort Simpson who may be critically ill."

Between Feb. 1, 2012 and Jan. 31, 2013, 330 people from the NWT were medevaced to hospital in Edmonton.

"The vast majority (of patients) are straight from Stanton (Territorial Hospital)," said Corkal.

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